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Jun 132014

The encouragement to keep physically active is everywhere.  Strengthening our heart and lungs, are essential to helping other organs and our bodies in general work better.  All exercise generates more energy for the brain.  With the dawning of new and promising research, it is being seen that there is a strong link between running and a younger, more active brain.  Doctors are now discovering that not only are we smart to run, but we can actually become smarter if we do!

The act of running not only strengthens our heart and lungs but also is building our brains to function better.  Vigorous cardiovascular exercise such as running pumps oxygen and glucose-rich blood to your brain.  As we age our brain tissue volume shrinks.  When we get involved in a high aerobically challenging exercise such as running, fresh nerve cells and blood vessels are formed and grow.  Adults who exercised regularly increase the volume of their hippocampus (the region linked to learning and memory) by over two percent, compared to inactive peers, in the research found by Dr. Smith Ph.D.  Two percent may not seem significant until you discover that this part of the brain isn’t seen as increasing at any point after entering adulthood.  Dr. Smith has also determined that running or such vigorous exercise also can rescue many brain cells that would also be dying with age.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Dementia and Alzheimer’s is on the rise.  One in fourteen adults over the age of 65 has some form of Dementia.  Those who are over 80 are one in six of having some form of Dementia.  The hippocampus is the area of the brain that is most commonly affected by these two age related states of mind.  Those who can stay active in running or similar vigorous activity had stronger cognitive skills, including improved focus, and help forestall the onset of Dementia.

Being active not only helps us making memories and delaying mind altered illnesses but also helps us find our memories when we want to.  Patients with the early onslaught of Alzheimer’s who exercised were able to remember faces of famous people.  It appears that with running or regular exercise the quality of the neurons being transmitted to the brain, helps improve the retrieval of memories.  The better we support those neurons, the easier it is to retrieve the memories that we have spent our lifetimes creating.

The hippocampus is not the only part of the brain that benefits from these types of physical activity.  The frontal cortex has shown improvement as well.  Being the part of the brain that is responsible for decision making, planning, organizing, and juggling mental tasks,  these executive functions become easier when we choose to lace up our running shoes regularly.  A 2010 Japanese study discovered that those who completed bouts of physical activity scored higher on these cognitive functions than those that did not.  What adult wouldn’t want the mental help provided in juggling of life’s responsibilities?

Feeling a little blue?  The SSRI drugs that help treat depression, work by keeping the neurotransmitters in the synapses longer.  Doctors have discovered that running does the same thing.  Running builds our serotonin naturally possibly eliminating the need for antidepressants.  If you are in need of an antidepressant, the medicines are found to work better and longer than those who are just on medicines alone.

Anytime I have communication with my doctor, either via email or a visit, the tag line on all paperwork is to THRIVE.  One way my insurance encourages its members to THRIVE is to stay physically active.  With the simple act of lacing up my tennis shoes, I am getting multiple rewards.  Not only will I be keeping my favorite jeans fitting, postponing and fighting Dementia in later years, maintaining a healthy mental state, but also helping my brain function better overall. Now you too can go THRIVE.

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