How does regular exercise protect against mental decline?

Does regular exercise prevent not only mental decline but also obesity, diabetes, and heart disease? How does exercise protect against mental decline?

A. For many years, we’ve been able to prove that regular exercise protects against these things. How? But how? It is easy to understand how regular exercise can prevent weight gain. It’s harder to see how regular exercise can protect against diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The Harvard Health Letter published a report in 2012 on the discovery of irisin at Harvard Medical School. The hormone was first discovered in mice and then in humans. Irisin can be produced by muscles and perhaps by other organs, such as the brain, during exercise.

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This molecule, which was found in experiments to be effective at improving insulin resistance and converting white fat cells into brown fat cells that burn fat, also helps transform these cells from storing fat to burning fat. These changes protect the heart and diabetes by reducing body weight. Could Irisin explain the positive effects of exercise on your brain?

The journal Nature Metabolism published a research report by many members of the Harvard team on Aug. 20, 2021. It concluded that it could. A gene that is essential for the production of irisin in mice was knocked out from birth. Blood levels of irisin and brain cells (neurons) were low. Exercise did not improve the brain function of these mice as it did for mice with a gene intact. This suggested that irisin could be the cause of the positive effects exercise has on the brain. In order to explore this further, scientists used gene therapy to introduce healthy copies of the gene with a knocked-out gene into mice. The mice produced high levels of the irisin protein when they exercised, and their cognitive abilities improved.

Scientists then used gene therapy to increase levels of irisin, a protein that is produced by the brain. This was done in mice with a similar disease as Alzheimer’s. The mice’s cognitive abilities improved, as well as the changes in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found that irisin could protect against Alzheimer-like diseases in the mouse brain by reducing inflammation.

Lessons learned from mice studies are not always applicable to humans. The fact that mice and humans share the same irisin molecule gives hope that the discovery of this molecule may one day prove beneficial to human health. This study suggests that, more broadly, the numerous health benefits of regular physical activity may be due, at least partially, to one or several hormones produced by exercise.

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