Study shows that early physical activity enhances brain function later in life

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The evidence suggests that early life-style interventions, like promoting physical activity, may help to build a neurogenic reserve, which can protect against cognitive decay.

Researchers at the University of Toronto find that running at an early age improves associative learning and memory later in life.

The paper “Early-Age Running Enhances Activity of Adult-Born Dentate Granule Neurons following Learning in Rats” compared neuronal activity in two groups of juvenile male rats, one that engaged in intensive exercise and other that followed normal activities.

After six weeks, the wheels of the active rats were removed and the two groups did not exercise as they entered adulthood.

Researchers led other experiments and then examined the rats’ brain tissue. They found that active rats had the same number of neurons than sedentary rats, but their newborn cells behaved differently.

“Rats in the running condition, that were found to exhibit enhanced neurogenesis, also froze less than non-runners (…) indicating better discriminability of the contextual environments and less generalization of the fear response. There is considerable evidence that the ability to discriminate between overlapping stimulus elements (pattern separation), is associated with hippocampal function and, in particular, adult neurogenesis,” states the study.

Previous studies in humans have found that early physical and cognitive activity can delay the process of cognitive decline at an old age. This evidence suggests that early life-style interventions, like promoting physical activity, may help to build a neurogenic reserve, which can protect against cognitive decay.