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Exercise & The Elderly

Cognitive Health’s Winning Formula

Senior adults who stay active and exercise have better cognitive function

By John Salak –

Is anyone going to argue that a reasonable amount of exercise is bad for a person’s health? Think not. Working out regularly has been proven to be a boon on so many fronts. Now the University of California is reporting that elderly individuals who exercise regularly are doing their cognitive condition a whole lot of good. In fact, UC-San Francisco maintains that older people who stay active have more proteins in their brains that enhance the connections between neurons—all of which lead to better cognitive conditions.

When elderly people stay active, their brains have more of a class of proteins that specifically enhances the connections between neurons to maintain healthy cognition, the UC-San Francisco study has found. This enhancement was apparent even in the brains of people riddled with toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

“Our work is the first that uses human data to show that synaptic protein regulation is related to physical activity and may drive the beneficial cognitive outcomes we see,” reported the study’s lead author Kaitlin Casaletto, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology at the university. The results are significant in part because to date the beneficial effects of physical activity on cognition have been shown in mice but was much harder to demonstrate in people.

The ability to identify the impact on people came about because the research team was able to leverage data from the Memory and Aging Project at Rush University in Chicago. That effort tracked the physical activity in elderly individuals who also agreed to donate their brains when they died. “Maintaining the integrity of these connections between neurons may be vital to fending off dementia, since the synapse is really the site where cognition happens,” Casaletto noted. “Physical activity — a readily available tool — may help boost this synaptic functioning.”

The team was surprised to find the impact of physical activity went beyond the hippocampus to extend to other brain regions associated with cognitive function. “It may be that physical activity exerts a global sustaining effect, supporting and stimulating healthy function of proteins that facilitate synaptic transmission throughout the brain,” added Dr. William Honer, a senior author on the study.

Many older adults start to suffer from cognitive issues and possibly Alzheimer’s because they accumulate the toxic proteins amyloid and tau, which damage synapses and neurons. Synaptic health or integrity seems critical to offsetting the harmful relationship between amyloid and tau, and between tau and neurodegeneration, Casaletto explained. “In older adults with higher levels of the proteins associated with synaptic integrity, this cascade of neurotoxicity that leads to Alzheimer’s disease appears to be attenuated,” she reported. “Taken together, these two studies show the potential importance of maintaining synaptic health to support the brain against Alzheimer’s disease.”




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