Friday, March 19, 2010

An easy way to prevent senior moments by Jerry Brainum

It's difficult to pinpoint the precise moment when you feel that you are getting old. For some, aging may become apparent through various aches and pains that didn't exist during youth. It's a clear sign that the wear and tear of the years have made their mark on your body. For others, the feeling of age may be reflected in subtle memory slips, such as forgetting where you left those keys, or whatever. In the brain, the site of memory formation and retention is a structure called the hippocampus. The brain cells, or neurons, contained in the hippocampus gradually die off with age. In the past, scientists said that once you lost those cells, that was it; it was permenant, case closed. This loss of hippocampal neurons was apparent by varying levels of memory impairment. In the most pathological scenario, mass desruction of hippocampal neurons occured with Alzhemier's disease. For many over 40, however, the loss of these cells produced the so-called senior moments of memory deficits. Although no one knows the precise cause for these memory deficits, scientists now think that what happens is that the neurons in the hippocampus kill themselves. In other cases, unrelenting stress over the years floods the brain with excess levels of cortisol, a stress hormone secreted from the adrenal glands that selectively destroys hippocampal neurons. What is needed to protect these vital brain memory cells is a way to promote new cell formation, as well as to prevent the cells from going into a suicide mode. Thus far, no drug has proved successful in combating this insidious brain degeneration.
But there may be an effective solution no further than the nearest treadmill. In a recent study with old rats, the rats that did treadmill exercise showed an increase in memory functions. This effect was traced to an increase in the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus, as well as a suppression of the existing cells killing themselves. You might say that exercise made the memory cells of brain happy. One known way that exercise does this is by increasing the level and release of a neuron-nourishing substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. But from a practical point of view, what you need to know now is that doing regular exercise will help  preserve your memory, and it's side effect free--unless you fall off the treadmill.
Eun-KIma S, et al. Treadmill exercise prevents aging-induced failure of memory through an increase in neurogenesis and suppression of apoptosis in rat hippocampus. Exp Gerontol 2010: In press.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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