The importance of brain health to prevent dementia

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The brain is the most complex organ in the human body consisting of 100 billion cells known as neurons. It’s the command centre of our central nervous system allowing us to meaningfully interact with the world, control our movements, emotions and store our precious memories.

Unfortunately, brain disorders like dementia (of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most well-known) can damage these cells and adversely affect the way they connect and interact. While scientists are working hard on developing treatments, there is still no cure for dementia.

Not surprisingly, age is the greatest risk factor for developing dementia. While we cannot do anything about this, some environmental factors seem to influence the likelihood of disease occurring. Some research shows health and lifestyle factors may contribute to up to between 35% and 50% of dementia cases worldwide.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to lessen the impact of these factors. One of the best examples is physical exercise. Exercise is non-invasive, readily available, cost-effective and known to have multiple health benefits.

In recent years, ground-breaking research by the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) has more closely identified the link between exercise and the increased production of new brain cells. QBI’s Founding Professor Perry Bartlett was one of the first people to discover that the adult brain contains stem cells capable of making new neurons, a process called neurogenesis. As the brain ages, these stem cells lose their ability to produce new neurons, causing our cognitive function to decline.

The precise effect of exercise on cognitive function, especially during ageing and following stroke, has been the focus of extensive research. Using animal models, we now know that exercise is one of the strongest positive regulators of neurogenesis. Through carefully controlled experiments, our researchers are demystifying the underlying mechanisms required for successful improvement in neurogenesis and cognitive function. Importantly, these studies have laid the foundation to undertake human trials.

Professor Bartlett and his team led a clinical trial, alongside specialists from the Centre for Advanced Imaging and the University of Queensland’s School of Human Movement and Nutrition Science, into exercise and cognitive health in healthy adults aged 65-85 years. The results of this study, due out later this year, aim to quantify the amount, intensity and type of exercise that might lead to cognitive improvement in elderly people.

This new data is likely to have a profound impact on the optimal exercise recommended for older adults and will be the most comprehensive analysis to date as to why exercise is beneficial. Ultimately, we hope to develop clear public health guidelines about how exercise can help prevent and reverse dementia.

In the meantime, we encourage you to incorporate simple things into your everyday life, like staying physically, mentally, and socially active to improve your brain health. It’s never too late to start. Your brain is an amazing organ. Make sure you look after it.

The Brain: Dementia QBI

 

Last updated:
31 August 2021