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[WELL CONNECTED] Staying active tied to better connections between brain cells

When older adults stay active, their brains have more of a class of proteins that enhances the connections (synapses) between neurons (nerve cells in the brain) to maintain healthy cognition, a study published January 7 in Alzheimer's & Dementia reveals. This protective impact was found even in people whose brains at autopsy were riddled with toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

"Maintaining the integrity of these connections between neurons may be vital to fending off dementia, since the synapse is really the site where cognition happens," said lead author Kaitlin Casaletto, PhD of the University of California, San Francisco. "Physical activity -- a readily available tool -- may help boost this synaptic functioning."

The researchers analyzed data from the Memory and Aging Project at Rush University in Chicago. That project tracked the late-life physical activity of older participants who also agreed to donate their brains when they died.

They found that those who had remained active had higher levels of proteins that facilitate the exchange of information between neurons. This result dovetailed with the earlier finding by principal author William Honer, MD of the University of British Columbia that people who had more of these proteins in their brains when they died had been better able to maintain their cognition late in life.

To their surprise, the team found that the effects ranged beyond the hippocampus, the brain's seat of memory, to encompass other brain regions associated with cognitive function. "It may be that physical activity exerts a global sustaining effect, supporting and stimulating healthy function of proteins that facilitate synaptic transmission throughout the brain," Dr. Honer said.

To read the full study, click here


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