Quantifying the Beneficial Effects of Exercise on the Brain

Armed with newer, cheaper, and better biotechnologies, researchers can measure ever more of the detailed effects of good health practices such as regular exercise, calorie restriction, and the like. It is possible now to examine the workings of metabolism in any specific part of the body in very great detail, all the way down to the molecular machinery in our cells, see how it changes with age, and see how those changes differ with different lifestyle choices. Or at least this can be done in mice - in humans, more statistical work is required to use today's technology to pull apart the differences between young and old, exercising and sedentary. The option to wait around for sizable portions of a human life span isn't there, after all; science moves faster than that.

Here is an open access paper that measures a little more of the effects of exercise, and along the way provides yet another compelling argument to be someone who exercises rather than someone who sits around growing ever more unfit with each passing year:

Healthy brain aging and cognitive function are promoted by exercise. The benefits of exercise are attributed to several mechanisms, many which highlight its neuroprotective role via actions that enhance neurogenesis, neuronal morphology and/or neurotrophin release. However, the brain is also composed of glial and vascular elements, and comparatively less is known regarding the effects of exercise on these components in the aging brain. Here, we show that aerobic exercise at mid-age [also] counters several well-established glial markers of brain aging. Similarly, we show that age-related changes in neurovascular morphology and function were reduced with exercise.


Thus, our results show that exercise can potentially mitigate progressive age-related changes in several key non-neuronal elements of the brain. Further, we show that these brain processes are still highly responsive to exercise in the midlife age range, consistent with studies showing that cognitive function can benefit from exercise even if initiated at later ages.

It's never to late to start on exercise. In the future, there will be rejuvenation biotechnologies capable of restoring the old to youthful health and vigor by repairing the low-level biological damage that causes aging. This will happen, I assure you - and it will be one of the least of the amazing new things to arrive in the years ahead. But human rejuvenation will almost certainly arrive later that either you or I desire, and until such time as it does become widely available the best things you can do for your own personal future of health and longevity are pretty primitive - lifestyle choices and supporting research and development.

All told, the better you do with the cards you have now, the more likely you are to live to benefit from the future of longevity-enhancing medicine. So do better.


I want to "second" the statement that exercise is important to not only health but longevity. I am not a mouse but a human being. No one has ever guessed my age accurately,consistently guessing me 20-30 years younger than my calendar age. I am now 70 and pass for 40 or 50. I believe this is because I have exercised vigorously and taken supplements for over 40 years. I AM a long-term study proving that exercise and supplementation slow the aging process. My family has not engaged in exercise and taken supplements and has does not seem to have slowed the aging process.

Physical exercise is a broad term and it matters what kind. Of course any regular exercise is better than none. But the best exercise for the heart is short, intense effort for about thirty seconds followed by a minute and a half of cool-down exercise, repeating the thirty second effort a little more intensely the second round...for up to about 7 such rounds. Dr. Al Sears' PACE program exemplifies this approach. In less than 20 minutes three to five times a week, one can get in excellent cardiovascular shape. Recent studies prove that long-distance running like marathons actually weaken the heart (!) by cutting down stroke volume and shrinking the lungs--paradoxical as that may seem. Marathoners are developing strokes. PACE is safe.

Physical exercise should also include resistance training (weight lifting). The gym is full of primitive mythologies about how to train. I have done body building for 48 years, and I can tell you the myths on how to train have scarcely changed. For example, in any gym, you will see people who want to get stronger and bigger doing literally dozens of repetitions with a weight so light it is ridiculous. The truth is the only way muscles get strong is to exhaust them. The fastest and easiest way to exhaust them is by lifting the heaviest weight possible just one repetition in the strongest range of that body part (a partial rep). The weight has to be heavy enough that the person can only lift it once for 5 seconds and then can't lift it one more second. This system builds strength and size faster than any other method. I refer you to Pete Sisco's Static Contraction Training (SCT). Pete created this system. Strength training is necessary to prevent osteoporosis, spinal stability, agility to prevent falls, maintain testosterone levels in men, with all the brain and other benefits testosterone confers.

Posted by: David Dressler, BA, RMT at November 14th, 2011 12:29 AM
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