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Effects of Physical Exercise on Brain Plasticity

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    Every person has the general function of brain plasticity. Brain plasticity, also called neuroplasticity, “refers to the brain’s ability to change throughout life” (Michelon, 2008). As humans grow and develop, their brains are constantly being altered as they consume new information. Everyone’s brain contains the general ability to reorganize itself. It does this by forming new connections between its brain cells that are also called neurons. When, how, and why our brain changes is influenced by a variety of various factors. Our brains change because of our genetics, our environment, and our actions. Michelon stated that these factors may also play a large role in plasticity. Neuroplasticity will occur at multiple stages throughout a human’s life.

    The first time that the brain changes is at the start or beginning of a person’s life when their immature brains will first organize themselves. The brain will then change again to brace itself for the possibility of injury. This time, the brain plasticity occurs in order to either compensate for lost functions of the brain, or to maximize remaining functions that are left after an injury has occurred to the brain. Lastly, the brain will yet again face modification when it enters adulthood and something new is learned, and then memorized (Michelon, 2008).

    Alzheimer’s is “the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life” (What Is). Alzheimer’s is a disease that accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases. It is a fact that Alzheimer’s is not, and has never had been, a normal part of aging. The condition of people with Alzheimer’s will worsen over time, since Alzheimer’s remains a progressive disease. However, dementia symptoms are ones that will gradually worsen over a great number of years. When people are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, their memory loss remains mild; however, with late-stage Alzheimer’s many individuals will lose their ability to carry on a conversation, or even to respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is different from what naturally happens in the brain with decline in memory as people are aging.

    According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, there are significant differences between memory decline due to age and memory decline due to Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is irreversible, and it destroys brain cells. This causes people’s thinking ability as well as their memory to deteriorate. Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging because when someone has Alzheimer’s, things called plaques, which are “deposits of a protein called ‘beta amyloid,’ or A-beta,” (Normal Aging, 2018) that have clumped together in the brain will prevent signals in the brain from being transferred between nerve cells. This ultimately causes the cells in the brain to die. This is a process that remains to be not seen in many people without this condition who are just naturally aging, and experiencing normal memory decline (Normal Aging, 2018).

    The human body contains many different types of neurotransmitters that have many different functions and roles. According to Prashad, (2018) “neurotransmitters are chemicals that are released from nerve cells to other target cells to communicate information”. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter found in the human body. Dopamine is in the frontal cortex, and it acts as a traffic officer because it controls the flow of information that goes to other parts of the brain. Dopamine also plays a major role in attention as well as in problem-solving and memory. Acetylcholine is another type of neurotransmitter found in the body. It aids in the formation of memories, as well as the brain’s reasoning skills.

    Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder which “affects the neurons responsible for movement in the body” (Prashad, 2018). Because dopamine is the type of neurotransmitter that remains responsible for transmitting information about movement, the death of these particular neurons can cause many serious symptoms. These symptoms include tremor, stiffness, and balance issues. The body will then try to compensate for its lack of dopamine by releasing more glutamate. Glutamate is another type of neurotransmitter in the body. Its role is to aid in learning and memory. Glutamate is also an excitatory neurotransmitter which means that if a person happens to have too much of it, they will experience overexcitement, and eventual death of neurons in the brain (Prashad, 2018).

    According to Carr, people have used the term ‘use it or lose it’ to “aptly describe the best way to off-set the problems that come with aging” (Carr, 2014). Carr stated that many new scientific studies continue to show that if you disengage in brain activities later on in life, then things tend to fall apart. This fact has great meaning when discussing cognitive performance. This is what Darrell’s father meant when he stated the phrase “use it or lose it”. Darrell’s father plans on using his brain and all of the functions that it can successfully perform to its full ability, and often, so that his brain will not deteriorate and lose some of its capabilities as he ages. Carr stated that, for years, scientists assumed that cognitive performance and functions have declined substantially just as a part of normal aging.

    However, new research suggests that this may not be the case for everybody. People with abnormal brain function usually end up getting dementia. These people will then show a greater decline in cognition, beginning as early as in their 40s. However, while those with normal brain matter and function will experience cognitive decline, it proves to not be as great or detrimental. In her article, Carr stated that there is an impressive decrease in cognitive performance and function in older people that is the result of not only age, but also retirement. This is because when people stop engaging in “cognitively complex tasks,” the brain is “no longer challenged enough to maintain cognitive function” (Carr, 2014). This is when people should make sure that they use it, so that they can avoid losing it. This also pertains to memory. When Carr states that the brain loses its function because people do not challenge it enough, this includes functions that have to do with storing, retrieving, and keeping memories as well (Carr, 2014).

    Darrell’s father claims that there is scientific research out that backs the idea that playing brain games also helps one’s brain by slowing down the decline of their memory. There are many studies out there that have tested this same theory. In his article, MacMillan stated that new research found that brain games can indeed improve memory and mood in older adults who’ve begun to experience a small amount of decline in their brain’s abilities. The only catch is that “most of the research involved supervised group training—which means the games may not be as helpful to folks playing them at home” (MacMillan, 2016). MacMillan included that the whole idea behind brain games is to enhance memory as well as thinking skills by getting people to practice mentally challenging exercises that are specially designed to look and feel like video games.

    In MacMillan’s article, he included that many researchers from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre have combined data from previously published, randomized clinical trials, which included nearly 700 participants, and spanned more than 20 years, into one very large pool which is known as a meta-analysis. MacMillan stated that of those studies, “17 included adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI)—a decline in thinking and memory that has not yet affected daily living skills—and 12 included adults with full-blown dementia” (MacMillan 2016). The researchers then combined and analyzed data only involving people with MCI who were playing brain games. The researchers concluded that the brain games led to improvements in many different areas of the brain, including global cognition, memory, learning, attention, mood, and self-perceived quality of life. However, when the researchers added in the data that was taken from the 12 studies on people who had already had dementia, this association had disappeared.

    Amit Lampit, PhD, is a research fellow in the School of Psychology. He stated that “‘brain training can play an important role in helping to reduce early symptoms of memory loss’ ” (MacMillan, 2016). He also stated that his research shows that brain training can maintain, or even help to improve cognitive skills among older people at very high risk of cognitive decline. This method is also very inexpensive and safe. However, most of the large trials have been done in supervised settings. Therefore, it’s unknown whether online programs used at home would have the same effects.

    Lampit then compared his research to research done on people who are trying to get fit or lose weight. Lampit stated, “‘Think of it this way: For most people, joining a gym or aerobics class are more likely to help them achieve the results they want than buying home fitness equipment’ ” (MacMillan, 2016). Similarly, Lampit concluded that doing cognitive training in a supervised format will also help people to persevere with their training program, and do the exercises that fit them best. Lampit also included that he would like to see community centers and clinicians establish group facilities that are very similar to those that have evidence already behind them. Either way, Darrell’s father is correct in stating that there is scientific research that supports the idea that brain games do help the brain by slowing the decline in memory (MacMillan, 2016).

    Anthony’s father insists that there is scientific research that backs the idea that physical exercise helps the brain by slowing down memory decline. A recent research study just concluded that “exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills” (Godman, 2018). There was a study done at the University of British Columbia in which many researchers found that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is involved in verbal memory as well as learning. The study’s participants walked briskly, for one hour, twice a week in order to get a total of 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. The researchers that were involved in the study found that exercise helps memory and thinking greatly through both direct and indirect means.

    Apparently, the many benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to “reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells” (Godman, 2018). The researchers also found that the exercise affected the participants indirectly as well because the exercise improved the participant’s mood and sleep, and it also reduced their levels of stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment that negatively affects memory. According to Godman, other studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory, the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex, also have a much greater volume in people who exercise versus people who do not exercise.

    Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School says that people who engaged in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity for over six months or a year have had a significant increase in the volume of selected regions in their brain. Therefore, Anthony’s father was indeed correct in stating that there is research that backs up the idea that regular exercise can help to slow down the effects of memory decline, and also help the brain (Godman, 2018).

    I think that the brain games will be most beneficial to me as I age. Out of the two brain workouts, I chose to play the brain games to slow down my declining memory because I think that they would be easy and fun. The brain games are something that I already have downloaded on my phone, and so I am familiar with them. I also think that it would be very fun to get a group together and play the games with a bunch of people and race and compete with them. In the study that I found, research showed how the brain games had been beneficial to those who played them in a group setting because they slowed down the people’s decline in memory. I think that since there is research out there that supports this theory for people who were at risk of losing some of their brain’s abilities, that it would be very beneficial to me just like it was for other people. Also, brain games are a very inexpensive, accessible, and safe way to train your brain and keep all of its functions working to their best ability. That is yet another reason as to why I picked this method to help slow down my declining memory. They are also easy to download and play, and I ca do them anywhere on my phone. Out of the two brain workouts, I chose to play the brain games to slow down my declining memory.

    I think that regular physical exercise would be most beneficial to me when it comes to learning in my future classes. While exercising may not help me actually learn new material, it might help me understand and remember new material that I will be learning. In the article I read by Godman, she stated that regular physical exercise helped to improve the participant’s mood and sleep, as well as reduced their levels of stress and anxiety (Godman, 2018). Godman also stated that when people frequently had problems in these areas, that they would cause or contribute to even more cognitive impairment which then negatively affected their memory. Therefore, by exercising, I would be eliminating these factors from my life, so that I would have better cognitive function and a better memory. These two things will greatly help me to successfully learn and understand new material, as well as complete assignments, and get good test scores.

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    Effects of Physical Exercise on Brain Plasticity. (2022, May 15). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/effects-of-physical-exercise-on-brain-plasticity/

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