Exercise is Better For Your Brain Than You Think

Health research continues to expose the importance of even the smallest amount of exercise. Indeed, every single person can benefit from getting more exercise, even those of us that are already very healthy. Surely, getting more exercise helps lower the risk for a variety of health-related issues, particularly those attributed to being overweight.  This can include things like obesity, of course, but also hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. But while the health of effects of exercise are certainly something that we can see in metabolic and respiratory measure, exercise can also improve brain health as well.

And this week, we have new data suggesting that exercise could help protect your brain from Alzheimer’s disease. 

Ok, it is not necessarily that exercise alone has any specific physical effect on the brain.  To clarify, research shows that exercise releases endorphins—that much we know—but there is a more important hormone we are looking at today.  This hormone is known as irisin.

Irisin was only discovered a few years ago, so we still do not know too much about it.  It was actually originally believed to play a significant role in energy metabolism.  New research, however, now suggests that irisin might actually be responsible for the promoting of neuronal growth in the hippocampus region of our human brain.

The hippocampus, often consider an organ of its own, is located within the brain’s medial temporal lobe.  This organ is associated with learning and memory—and, in particular, long-term memory.  Scientists have been studying it to see how it relates to memory loss (and conditions related to memory loss, like Alzheimer’s disease).  With that, then, scientists now credit exercise-related irisin with this organs ability to deter memory loss later in life. 

Ottavio Arancio, MD, PhD, is a researcher with Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain.  Also a lead author in this recent study, Arancio comments on the discovery.  He says, “This raised the possibility that irisin may help explain why physical activity improves memory and seems to play a protective role in brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.”

But while these results are definitely novel, Arancio advises that they are preliminary. As such, they are now looking for pharmaceutical compounds that can mimic or encourage these irisin-boosting effects as a way to treat dementia.  He also recommends that, until they can produce something definitive, it is definitely a good idea to exercise as a way to boost overall health as well as promote brain function.