cognitive decline

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.



The Right Exercise to Improve Brain Health


A family history of age-related cognitive impairment might be the most important reason of all to exercise. Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) is a protein produced by the body that is essential for brain health. BDNF levels decline with age.1   Those with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's diseases exhibit reduced BDNF levels.2  

Fasting will elevate BDFN levels;3  The mind becomes focused when the need for food for survival looms large, and BDFN levels rise.

BDFN also rises in response to exercise. According to one study 4 comparing continuous exercise versus hit 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 Personal Training and New Orleans Personal Training facilities.  Declining BDNF levels can be reversed.  It is best to take steps to do it now.  

The lasting effect of strength training on cognitive function

People with Mild Cognitive Impairment MCI have reduced cognitive abilities but are still able to live independently. Strength training can reverse MCI, and the effect is long lasting.  From this study, Increasing muscle strength can improve brain function, these quotes:

  • "Findings from the Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART) trial show, for the first time, a positive causal link between muscle adaptations to progressive resistance training and the functioning of the brain among those over 55 with MCI."
  • "The stronger people became, the greater the benefit for their brain. The benefits persisted even 12 months after the supervised exercise sessions ended.”

In a previous study MRI scans of those who took part in strength training showed an increase in the size of specific areas of the brain.  Imagine that. Add to this finding all the other benefits of strength training.   At New Orleans Strength Trainer and Austin Strength Trainer we use MedX equipment. With its special medical rehab features we can work with clients of all ages and levels of fitness.

One of our trainers has four clients in their 80s. One of our senior clients went from playing nine of holes of golf every two days to 36 holes of golf over two days. It is never too late to start a strength training program.

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.

The link between diabetes and Alzheimer's

From this article, Researchers find stronger links between diabetes and Alzheimer's comes this quote:

“Their study, using mice, found that elevated glucose in the blood – a primary consequence of diabetes -- can rapidly increase levels of amyloid beta, which shows up in brain plaques in Alzheimer’s patients. The buildup of these plaques is believed to be what brings on the memory loss that Alzheimer’s causes in the brain.”

And this:

“If the mice did not have the amyloid plaques in the brains, doubling their blood glucose levels increased amyloid beta levels in the brain by 20%. When the scientists repeated the experiment in older mice that already had developed brain plaques, amyloid beta levels rose by 40%”

Now is the time to cut back on sugar and engage in exercise that lowers blood sugar effectively.  This New Your times article, Why Your Workout Should Be High-Intensity, makes the case that High Intensity Training is effective:

A quote:

“They are showing that high-intensity exercise may be even better than regular aerobic activities for many patients with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, pulmonary disease, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.”

And this:

“Researchers have found that repeatedly pushing the body close to its exercise limits for very brief periods, interspersed with periods of rest, is more effective than continuous moderate activity at improving cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic and mechanical functions.”

This is precisely what we do at Austin Fitness Training and at New Orleans Fitness Training and we can help you with that.

Growing new brain cells by exercising

Regular exercise improves our ability to think and remember through the creation of new brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis.

From this NY Times article, How Testosterone May Alter the Brain After Exercise:

“A new study found that male sex hormones surge in the brain after exercise and could be helping to remodel the mind”.

They tested to see if rats produce the testosterone in the brain by shutting off production in the testes (castration). Further, some of the animals also were injected with a drug that negated the effects of testosterone produced by the brain. Some rats were not altered. They were then divided into groups, sedentary and active rats. The active rats exercise on treadmills for two weeks; the sedentary rats played video games (not really).

Quote from the article:

“They found that, compared with the sedentary animals, the running rats had significantly more of a potent testosterone derivative called
dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, in their brains. Even the brains of rats that had been castrated sloshed with DHT.

So the exercise had prompted increased production of the hormone…

In essence, exercise prompts the production of more DHT. And more DHT helps to create more new brain cells”.

And one last quote:

"Do women gain less brain benefit from exercise than men?

“It’s unlikely,” Dr. McEwen says. One reason that early experiments into exercise and neurogenesis tended to be performed in female rats was that “in rats, females exercise more than the males,” he said. “They’ll run for hours and keep running, even when they’re old.” Elderly males, in contrast, willingly quit working out. In those experiments, neurogenesis was plentiful in the female brains.

“It’s very probable that estrogen plays a role” like that of DHT in the female brain after exercise, Dr. McEwen says”.

It is worth noting that the exercise was classified as mild-intense, jogging or walking. Also worth noting that it has been established that more intenseexercise produces more testosterone than less intense exercise. It could be that intense exercise is better for brain remodeling, but that was not what was tested.


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Austin Personal Training.

Study Asks: Does Exercise Benefit the Brain?

In a study two groups took a memory quiz. Then one group cycled to exhaustion in 30 minutes and the other group sat there. Their memories were then retested. The result:

“The exercised volunteers performed significantly better on the memory test than they had on their first try, while the volunteers who had rested did not
improve” – quote from the NY Times article How Exercise Benefits The Brain.

They also took blood samples throughout the experiment. They found that: “The cyclists had significantly higher levels of a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which is known to promote the health of nerve cells. The men who had sat quietly showed no comparable change in BDNF levels.”

In a Brazilian study published last month, “scientists found that after sedentary elderly rats ran for a mere five minutes or so several days a week for five weeks, a cascade of biochemical processes ignited in the memory center of their brains, culminating in increased production of BDNF molecules there. The old, exercised animals then performed almost as well as much younger rats on rodent memory tests.”

Add increased BDBF and improved brain health to the long list of benefits
that come from exercise, particularly high intensity intervals strength

At New Orleans Fitness Trainers and at Austin Personal Training we can help you gradually build up to a high intensity regime that is safe, effective, and efficient for your age. Our oldest client is 88. Using such a program you can expect to feel better and have a dramatic improvement in your health.

Exercise and Brain Health

From the article Get Moving for a Health Brain in the September 2013 AARP Bulletin these quotes:

The latest research shows that cognitive decline is not inevitable…the brain continues to make new neurons and fine tune neural connections as we live…Aerobic exercise jumps-tarts that process and slashes your lifetime risk of Alzheimer’s’ in half and general dementia by 60 %.

And this:

Exercise boosts the flow of blood to the brain, spurring the release of what has been dubbed Miracle-Gro for the brain – brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This chemical stimulates the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus, the area involved in memory, learning and the ability to plan and make decisions. BDNF also repairs cell damage and strengthens

Is it to late to start if you are already older? According to the article No. Can aerobic activity cognitive benefit younger people? Absolutely, more on that in a later blog post. At Austin Personal Training and at New Orleans Fitness Trainers we can help you gradually build up to a high intensity program that is safe, effective, and efficient for your age and it will have your breathing hard. Our oldest client is 88. Using such a program you can expect to feel better and have a dramatic improvement in your health.

HIT exercise lowers cognitive decline in older women

From this study, Effects of aerobic exercise on mild cognitive impairment: a controlled trial this quote:

“Six months of high-intensity aerobic exercise had sex-specific effects on cognition… aerobic exercise improved performance on multiple tests of executive function, increased glucose disposal during the metabolic clamp, and reduced fasting plasma levels of insulin, cortisol, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor.”

The sixteen men in the study did not achieve the same positive cognitive results. They postulated that the difference was possibly because the body's use of and production of cortisol, insulin, and glucose differed in women and men. Regardless, the long list of positive changes resulting for high intensity exercise makes it worth the investment of one’s time.

All participants exercised at 75% to 85% of heart rate reserve and mean age of the group was 70 years old with the oldest being 85. At Austin Personal Training and at New Orleans Fitness Trainers we work with people of all ages in a high intensity fashion. High intensity varies by individual depending on their level of fitness. For those who are older the bar need not be that high to achieve high intensity exercise. To produce change you need to expose the body to more that it is used to handling.

We follow a simple protocol: Safely expose the body to more exercise than it is used to handling (longer duration, a greater distance, a quicker pace, or more weight lifted). Allow enough time for recovery and rebuilding. The body will then make a positive adaptation as an act of self-protection. When done correctly the human body is the only engine that improves with use rather than wearing down.

The best thing you can do for your brain - exercise


“There’s a lot of hype in this field in terms of brain improvement. I did set out to find out what actually works and what we know. What we do with our bodies has a huge impact on our brains. Our brains are more like our hearts in that everything you do for your heart is thought to be equally as good or better for your brain. Exercise is the best studied thing you can do to your brain. It increases brain volume, produces new baby brain cells in grownup brains. Even when our muscles contract, it produces growth chemicals. Using your body can help your brain.” From the NYT article, The Talents of a Middle-Aged Brain.

A strong body and a strong mind can be obtained through exercise. Prior blog entries dealing with cognitive decline and exercise:

Exercise Helps Increase Production Of Neural Stem Cells In Mice Brains And Helps Avoid Cognitive Impairment
Study: Exercise Slows Alzheimer's Brain Atrophy

At New Orleans Fitness Trainers and at Austin Personal Training we have designed our personal strength training sessions to have the biggest impact in the least amount of time so you will be stronger and have more time to do the activities you enjoy. It is worth considering that the strength training and the increased activity that results might have the added benefit of slowing cognitive decline. With the right exercise program your life can be transformed in just minutes a week.