How Physical Exercise Helps You to Prevent Alzheimer’s

While there are little puzzles and activities you can do to enhance your mental wellness, you may not realise that actual exercise can give your brain a helping hand as well. There are several ways in which overall physical fitness can help your brain, but research proves that boosting your memory is one of them. Justin S. Rhodes, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Illinois, recalls, ‘As a teenager, I was on the swim team in high school, and I remember being able to run for hours at a time at a very fast pace. But as I got older, had children and got really busy with work, I became more and more sedentary, spending more and more time in front of my computer rather than at the gym. Ironically, my most inactive time was when I was conducting research trying to figure out how exercise boosts memory.’


Rhodes details, ‘After collecting lots of original data, attending numerous conferences, and presenting my work in front of other experts in the field and discussing their findings, I have recently faced the fact that my sedentary lifestyle was damaging. In a major shift of priorities in my life, I now swim every day for 45 minutes at the university pool, mostly because I want to avoid the cognitive decline that comes with ageing and offset my chances of getting the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease. The immediate benefit is feeling much more awake and focused during the day that I am exercising, and I find I am much more efficient and productive at work as well.’ But how does that work?


‘If you think of the body as a highly integrated and coordinated machine, then when you exercise, the machine has to switch into major overdrive, expending much more energy than typical and producing much more force,’ explains Rhodes. ‘Since it is your brain telling your muscles what to do, the cells in your brain start firing in unison and with higher frequency, producing strong electrical signals that are detectable even outside the brain. All this effort in the brain and in the muscles requires energy. And to keep your brain alert and energised, the brain tells the adrenal gland in your body to release a chemical known as adrenalin into the blood. Your brain also tells many organs in your body to release energy into the blood for your muscles and brain cells to use to keep up all their activity…Adrenalin and energy delivered to the brain enhances memory. Give humans or animals adrenalin and they do better on memory tasks. Give them energy on top of adrenalin and they do even better.’


But surely you can do the same job with brain puzzles and teasers? ‘Physical activity is the key ingredient to encouraging brain activity,’ Rhodes asserts. ‘Stimulating the brain in other ways, such as doing crossword puzzles, card games, or computer games, does not do the trick. Doing crossword puzzles makes you good at crossword puzzles, and doing math problems makes you good at math, but this does not necessarily make you more alert when you drive or help you think creatively or keep up with your grandchildren. That’s the amazing thing about exercise. Exercise improves performance across the board. The reason largely has to do with a part of your brain known as the hippocampus, which stands out above all others as being strongly affected by exercise…Not only is the hippocampus the major brain region affected by exercise, but it is the major player in learning and memory, and the hotspot for Alzheimer’s disease… Exercise can completely reverse the decline, and importantly, it can do so at any age.’

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