brain health

The right exercise to generate new brains cells in Alzheimer's patients

neuron cells.jpg

In a recent study1, researchers found that exercise generates new brain cells in mice who have Alzheimer’s.  A quote:

“Beneficial effects on cognition can be blocked by the hostile inflammatory environment present in the brain of patients with Alzheimer's disease and that physical exercise can "clean up" the environment, allowing new nerve cells to survive and thrive and improving cognition in the Alzheimer's mice. In our study we showed that exercise is one of the best ways to turn on neurogenesis.”

The researchers sought to achieve the same results produced by exercise using drug and gene therapy.  This was met with limited success.  Comparing the two approaches they found: 

“We found the key difference was that exercise also turned on the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF -- known to be important for the growth and survival of neurons -- which created a more hospitable brain environment for the new neurons to survive."

Another quote: 

"It is not enough just to turn on the birth of new nerve cells, you must simultaneously 'clean up' the neighborhood in which they are being born to make sure the new cells survive and thrive. Exercise can achieve that."

The takeaway: Exercise results in neurogenesis (new neuron cells), and more BDNF creates a hospitable environment for those new cells to survive.  So what type of exercise produces the most of both? According to one study2 comparing continuous exercise versus high intensity training (HIT):

“The HIT protocol might represent an effective and preferred intervention for elevating BDNF levels and potentially promoting brain health.”

HIT is what we do at our Austin Strength Training facility. Our trainers have experience working with people of all ages and fitness levels. You can wait for effective drug and gene therapies to be developed to combat cognitive decline, or you can combat cognitive decline before it is too late.



Lower Body Strength Vital to Neurological Health


A study found that having strong legs slows the damage caused by neurological diseases.  The study addressed the question:  “Is the outcome of neurological diseases [spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), motor neuron disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS), and others] due exclusively to the lesions that form on the spinal cord in the case of spinal cord injury and genetic mutation in the case of SMA, or is the lower capacity for movement the critical factor that exacerbates the disease?"

They took two groups of mice: a control group that was free to roam and an experimental group that was restricted from using their hind legs for 28 days.  Restricted the physical activity of the mice resulted a 70 percent decrease in the number of neural stem cells compared to the control group.

The study stated,  “People who are unable to do load-bearing exercises -- such as patients who are bed-ridden, or even astronauts on extended travel -- not only lose muscle mass, but their body chemistry is altered at the cellular level and even their nervous system is adversely impacted,"

The conclusion: “The research shows that using the legs, particularly in weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that are vital for the production of healthy neural cells, essential for the brain and nervous system. Cutting back on exercise makes it difficult for the body to produce new nerve cells -- some of the very building blocks that allow us to handle stress and adapt to challenge in our lives.”

At our Austin Strength Training and New Orleans Strength Training facilities we use MedX equipment.  With the equipment’s many medical-rehab features we can accommodate those with limiting conditions.  Our clients with neurological conditions such as MS, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke have shown significant improvement. 

Overall, it’s important for everyone to stay strong, not just those with neurological conditions. Being strong helps forestall potential issues brought on by the frailty that comes with aging.

Vigorous aerobic exercise, the only know trigger for building new brain cells

From this New York Magazine article Why Running Helps Clear Your Mind -- Science of Us:

Studies in animal models have shown that new neurons are produced in the brain throughout the lifespan, and, so far, only one activity is known to trigger the birth of those new neurons: vigorous aerobic exercise, said Karen Postal, president of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology. “That’s it,” she said. “That’s the only trigger that we know about.” Vigorous exercise in the form of  High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is what we do  at New Orleans Fitness Trainers  and Austin Personal Training. Regular exercise improves our ability to think and remember through the creation of new brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis, the growth and development of nervous tissue. Another blog post on the same subject: Growing new brain cells by exercising.