In the first study to show that lifelong exercise decreases cellular aging in the brain, scientists from the McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida say that moderately active rats have healthier DNA and more robust brain cells than their less active counterparts. The research was presented today (Nov. 12) at the Society for Neuroscience's 35th annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
"It would be wonderful if we had a pill that contained all the benefits of exercise, but we don't," said Thomas Foster, Ph.D., the Evelyn F. McKnight chair for brain research in memory loss at the College of Medicine. "For this study animals were not forced to run; they did it because it was entertaining, the same as a pet hamster on a running wheel. The results show that regular mild exercise can prevent oxidative damage. In people, that translates to a daily 30-minute walk or a light 1-mile run."
Oxidative damage in the brain is believed to be a natural consequence of aging and a contributor to memory loss. In addition, increased oxidative damage has been implicated in the loss of brain cells that is associated with Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.
Oxidative damage can occur when molecules of oxygen gain electrons and become free radicals. The free radicals regain their balance by giving electrons to their neighbors. Most of the time the body routinely handles these renegades, but sometimes not before extensive damage occurs in the cell. Working with Christiaan Leeuwenburgh, Ph.D., an associate professor of aging and geriatric research at UF's Institute on Aging, Foster looked at groups of rats that had lived to old age. Some were more sedentary, while others had access to an exercise wheel.