An active lifestyle boosts learning and memory.
According to the World Health Association, more than thirty five million people worldwide live with dementia. The number of cases will double by 2030. Periodic, ongoing exercise stimulates growth of new brain neurons, a process known as “neurogenesis.” A headline published December, 2012 from the “Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness,” reported that physically active students outscored their classmates on standardized tests. The active students had higher report card grades.
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Until the late 1990s, health care professionals didn’t anticipate that new brain cells could be grown. The 1998 journal, “Nature Medicine,”reported that neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells) occurs in humans.
Neurogenesis is controlled by genes that trigger production of Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). This gene is activated by physical exercise. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Effect of Physical Activity in Cognitive Function of Older Adults at Risk for Alzheimer’s’ Disease,” reported that elderly people who participated in ongoing physical exercise over twenty four weeks showed had significant improvement in memory and language ability, compared to an age-matched group which hadn’t exercised. The mechanism enhancing brain performance was linked to BDNF.
In 2010, researchers verified an association between physical fitness levels and hippocampus size in nine and ten old children. The hippocampus is a structure located deep in the brain, crucial for learning and memory. A larger hippocampus is associated with higher performance on spatial reasoning and memory. Lifestyle factors examined included recreational sports, gardening, yard work, bicycling, dancing, and using an exercise cycle. A November 26, 2012 edition of “Nature Magazine” reported that an active lifestyle preserves brain gray matter in older adults, and could reduce the incidence of Alzheimers’ disease.
Conclusion: Homo Sapiens evolved to be physically active from childhood to senior years. Our sedentary lifestyle is causing our collective waist-lines to swell and our brain cells to shrink. Each of us needs to move our bodies a little bit each day to keep our brains healthy and our minds strong. The Greeks had it right; "A Sound Mind in a Strong Body."