Physical Time – The Healthy Mind Platter (7/8)

Daily Life, Neuroscience, Theoretics

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Physical Time – Improving the brain’s plasticity through exercise.

In an article in the New York Times, Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, respectively editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience and associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton take a critical look at computer programs to improve brain performance. The digital brain health and fitness software market is a booming business. According to the 2010 industry report called “Transforming Brain Health with Digital Tools to Assess, enhance and Treat Cognition across the Lifespan: The state of the Brain Fitness Market 2010” the size of the worldwide market in 2009 was $295 million dollars, a 35% growth since 2008, and representing an annualized growth rate of 31% since 2005. According to Aamodt and Wang:
“[a]dvertising for these products often emphasizes the claim that they are designed by scientists or based on scientific research. To be charitable, we might call them inspired by science – not to be confused with actually proven by science. One form of training, however, has been shown to maintain and improve brain health – physical exercise.”

Exercise can help to achieve and maintain brain health and plasticity throughout life. The clinical literature has recognized for years that exercise affects overall health and brain function, especially in later life. exercise is associated with enhanced metabolism of energy throughout the body.

Studies in humans have demonstrated the beneficial effects of exercise on cognitive function. Exercise has the capacity to enhance learning and memory under a variety of conditions, ranging from counteracting the mental decline associated with aging to aiding recovery in patients suffering from brain injury or disease. Cardiovascular fitness training improves overall cognitive function regardless of task type. Exercise improves “executive functions,” the set of abilities (like response speed and working memory) that allows us to select appropriate behavior, inhibit inappropriate behavior, and focus despite distractions. Moderate aerobic type exercise also reduces stress, decreases anxiety, and alleviates depression. Overall, physical activity has a significant positive and global impact on mental functioning.

Studies by neuroscientists are strengthening the premise that exercise can benefit brain function and are encouraging additional clinical studies in this area. Research reporting human brain activity during exercise is sparse but consolidates the data in the animal literature, showing that the simple act of moving activates a large percentage of the brain involving sensory/perceptual processes, autonomic regulation, and motor output. A PeT study found that increased brain activation was recorded in the “primary sensory cortex, primary motor cortex, supplementary motor cortex as well as the anterior part of the cerebellum” in response to cycling. Another study using single photon emission computed tomography found increases in regional CBF (cerebral blood flow) in the supplementary motor area, medial primary sensorimotor area, striatum, visual cortex, and cerebellar vermis during walking.

“exercise can help to achieve and maintain
brain health and plasticity throughout life…”

Exercise is an activity that, if practiced on a regular basis, activates molecular and cellular cascades that support and maintain brain plasticity. it induces the expression of genes associated with plasticity and promotes brain vascularization, neurogenesis, functional changes in neuronal structure and neuronal resistance to injury. Exercise activates mechanisms that protect the brain from damage. studies in animals show that physical activity, in the form of voluntary wheel running, can increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a molecule that enhances synaptic growth, increases neuronal survival, promotes learning and protects against cognitive decline. It also increases other growth factors, stimulates neurogenesis, increases resistance to brain insult and improves learning and mental performance and induces gene expression changes in the brain. The finding that exercise increases BDNF levels in the hippocampus – an area vital for memory formation and learning – has provided insight about the possible molecular mechanisms responsible for the positive effects of exercise on cognition. By inducing BDNF and other molecules, exercise strengthens neuronal growth and interconnected synaptic linkages among neurons and facilitates synaptic transmission, thus priming activated cells for encoding into long-term storage.

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Source: NeuroLeadership Institute.

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