Aging and exercise

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: February 24th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

There’s little debate that regular aerobic exercise strengthens major muscles in the legs and, more important, the heart itself. Now research suggests exercise not only does the body good, but also the brain.

And you don’t have to run marathons to keep brain cells in shape… regular, light activity just might do the trick.

A University of Florida study has found that lifelong exercise in rats protects against cellular aging in the brain.

Researchers studied two groups of lab rats… older animals whose cages were outfitted with exercise wheels, and rats that didn’t work out.

The study showed that regular, voluntary exercise slowed the brain aging process. After two years, the brain cells of the older, exercising rats looked like those of younger, six-month-old animals. U-F scientists say the benefits of a daily workout likely translate to people. Regular exercise with a doctor’s permission, such as a stroll around the block every evening or a one-mile run, might stave off the cognitive decline associated with normal aging and diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Reactive oxygen molecules in the brain called free radicals are thought to contribute to brain aging and memory loss… but exercise, even later in life, has an antioxidant effect that counteracts this stress to the cells.

Researchers say the bottomline is this: Regular, light exercise that keeps the heart strong also protects the brain against oxidative stress as we grow older.

In that respect, maintaining good neurological health may truly be just a walk in the park.