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Exercise found to help protect brain cells by keeping insulin, BMI levels low

by Vaishali Sharma

Exercising has been found in studies to help protect brain cells. A new study looking at the processes involved in this link reveals that the function exercise plays in managing insulin and BMI levels may help protect brain volume and hence help prevent dementia. The findings will be published in the online edition of Neurology®, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, on April 13, 2022.

“These results may help us to understand how physical activity affects brain health, which may guide us in developing strategies to prevent or delay age-related decline in memory and thinking skills,” said study author Géraldine Poisnel, PhD, of Inserm Research Center in Caen, France. “Older adults who are physically active gain cardiovascular benefits, which may result in greater structural brain integrity.”

In contrast, researchers discovered that insulin and body mass index (BMI) levels had no effect on the link between exercise and glucose metabolism in the brain. Dementia patients have decreased glucose metabolism in the brain.

The research included 134 participants with no memory issues, with an average age of 69. People completed surveys regarding their physical activities throughout the previous year. They had brain scans to determine volume and glucose metabolism. BMI and insulin levels, as well as cholesterol, blood pressure, and other variables, were all collected.

Those who were the most active also exhibited a greater average rate of glucose metabolism in the brain than those who were the least active.

Higher levels of physical activity were not related to the amount of amyloid plaque in people’s brains. Amyloid plaque is an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

Poisnel said more research is needed to understand the mechanisms behind these relationships. “Maintaining a lower BMI through physical activity could help prevent disturbed insulin metabolism that is often seen in aging, thus promoting brain health,” Poisnel said.

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