Friday, October 14, 2011

Exercise is our defense against genetics

Canadian Mike Bates wrote an article for The Windsor Star about Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself, a book about how we can actually change the physiological structure of our brains.

A self-proclaimed exercise geek, Bates follows the research. He is a certified personal trainer who teaches kinesiology at the University of Windsor, and owns Refine Fitness Studio in Windsor.

Bates and Doidge (and others), believe exercise is the only activity that has been shown to increase the production and conductivity of neurons in the brain. He goes on to explain how neurons are the basic building blocks of our nervous system.

"Protein is the basic building block of muscle, but without proper functioning neurons our muscles would not know how to move or would not move as quickly and effectively. A neuron's key function is to transmit information in the body.

"According to Dr. Arthur Kramer, a faculty member in neuroscience and psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana in Champaign: 'Exercise has neuroprotective effects enabling higher levels of cognition and delaying the onset of various forms of dementia such as Alzheimer's disease.'

"There is a substantial amount of research on the effect that exercise has on the brain. The literature shows a significant protective effect of physical activity on cognitive function and on decreased incidence of dementia, with the benefits lasting up to several decades. A few studies of human subjects older than 65 years showed that exercising at least 15 to 30 minutes three times weekly reduced the probability of developing Alzheimer's disease, even in subjects who were genetically predisposed.

"The majority of the research in this area shows that aerobic exercise has the biggest impact on cognition and overall brain functioning. This is not to say that strength training and stretching should be forgotten. There are many studies that show us the health benefits of resistance training and stretching.

"If you aren't getting this, then read it again: Regular exercise will not only help you live a longer more enjoyable life, it will help your brain function and decrease the chance of all kinds of health conditions as you get older - even if you are genetically predisposed."

Emphasis mine. The part that really grabbed my attention is that exercise offers some defense even against genetics. Every one who knows me knows my husband carries the Apoe4 gene, and that Alzheimer's is well underway at our house. I've been wondering what would motivate me to exercise. I believe that if I would he would.

Right now we are both doing physical therapy, him for a torn rotator cuff, me for a knee replacement. We are both in pretty sorry shape at the moment. We can't let that stop us. I also have COPD. Between his brain and my lungs, we simply must not stop exercising, even when therapy is finished.