On August 10, 2011, The Journal of Neuroscience carried a story with this headline: “Little Exercise, Big Effects: Reversing Aging and Infection-Induced Memory Deficits, and Underlying Processes.”
A University Of Colorado-Boulder study reported that even a small amount of voluntary exercise (running just over half a kilometer) “profoundly” protected late middle-aged rats against long-lasting memory loss after a serious bacterial infection.
Earlier studies have confirmed the benefits of exercise in protecting against cognitive decline generally. Scientists have also shown that bacterial infections like pneumonia — which stress the immune system — often precede the onset of dementia. This UC study adds a new dimension to our understanding of the relation between exercise and memory.
Research Associate Ruth Barrientos explained the importance of their finding:
Strikingly, this small amount of running was sufficient to confer robust benefits for those that ran over those that did not run. This is an important finding because those of advanced age are more vulnerable to memory impairments following immune challenges such as bacterial infections or surgery. With baby boomers currently at retirement age, the risk of diminished memory function in this population is of great concern. Thus, effective noninvasive therapies are of substantial clinical value.
Future research, Barrientos said, will examine how stress hormones affect the brain’s immune cells, and whether exercise slows the release of those hormones in older rats.
The evidence supporting the positive impact of exercise on our physical and mental health has certainly reached critical mass, hasn’t it? This blog alone has reported regularly on studies showing the salutary effects of exercise. What the heck are we waiting for? Let’s dust off our skateboards and join the pictured fellow… or at least lace up our walking shoes and hit the trail!