Use it or Lose It – Our Brains Need Exercise

January 29, 2014

Given the number of people in Chapel Hill who exercise on a regular basis, one can only hope that it implies a reduced incidence of dementia in the future.

It is now old news that regular physical exercise can help keep your brain healthy by stimulating the growth of new brain cells.   A recent study now shows that lack of exercise also has a negative effect on the brain.

Elderly Senior Home Care Couple AutumnIt should be noted that the study was conducted on rats, but there are enough similarities between the human brain and brain of a rat to allow researchers to draw interesting conclusions.  The end result is that being inactive actually gives rise to changes in the shape of neurons.

This is novel, because we used to think that the brain never changed after we reached adulthood.  But recent research has proven that our neurons still possess the ability to be reshaped due to conditions in our environment.  Regular physical activity has a big effect on our brains.

The latest study at Wayne State University School of Medicine compared rats that were active on a daily basis (using running wheels) to rats that were inactive.  After 90 days, brain scans were conducted.  It was revealed that the brains of the active rats showed little change and were functioning as before the study began.  But the brains of the “couch potato” rats had morphed.  They had developed new branches that made them over sensitive to stimuli, meaning that the brains would overreact and send unnecessary messages into the nervous system.

The scientists concluded that the direct impact would be to overstimulate the nervous system, leading to increased risk of heart disease.  Equally important, however, is the realization that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to physical changes in the brain structure.

If your home is in Chapel Hill or surrounding areas of the Triangle, take advantage of the mild climate and many resources we have to stay active.



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