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Physiotherapists should stress to their patients that continuing with exercise programmes can help to maintain their cognitive function, potentially preventing the development of dementia.
New research from a team comprising scientists from the University of Manchester and Western Sydney University has found that regularly exercising throughout life can help to maintain the size of a person's brain over time, meaning it is less likely to be affected by cognitive decline.
Lead author of the study Joseph Firth, research fellow at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University, explained: "When you exercise, you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain."
The research involved the analysis of 14 previous studies into the effect of exercise on the brain, which involved people ranging in age from 24 to 76 who took part in physical activity on a regular basis.
It was found that, over time, people who exercised more frequently were less likely to experience any shrinking of the brain, meaning their cognitive function was at less risk of being adversely affected.
This therefore suggests that exercise can be just as important for the mind as it is for the body, with Mr Firth likening it to a 'maintenance programme' for the mind - something that physiotherapists may want to pass onto their patients when providing them with advice.
More specifically, it was the left part of the hippocampus that was typically found to be larger in those who exercised more frequently. As this is the part of the brain responsible for storing memories and controlling spatial memory, the findings suggest that those who exercise the most may be at less risk of developing degenerative neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.
Mr Firth added: "Our data showed that, rather than actually increasing the size of the hippocampus per se, the main 'brain benefits' are due to aerobic exercise slowing down the deterioration in brain size."
Written by Mathew Horton
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