Running throughout middle age can help prevent memory decline, study shows

older male runner

Sticking to a regular running regimen throughout the middle age may help prevent or slow memory loss associated with getting older, according to a new study.

Scientists at universities in the United States and Mexico are adding to the growing evidence of running’s benefits to brain health with research looking specifically at the effects of regular exercise on neurons formed in early adulthood. Their findings, published in the journal eNeuroshow long-term running not only promotes the survival of these neurons, but also their integration into a network relevant to the maintenance of memory encoding during aging.

female runner
Closeup of female senior runner outdoors

“Long-term exercise profoundly benefits the aging brain and may prevent aging-related memory function decline by increasing the survival and modifying the network of the adult-born neurons born during early adulthood, and thereby facilitating their participation in cognitive processes,” says Henriette van Praagstudy co-author and associate professor of biomedical science at Florida Atlantic University.

For the study, researchers studied the brains of mice who had access to a running wheel and compared them to those of rodents that did not. Although this type of research precludes the use of human subjects—researchers used the rabies vaccine to help trace connections in the brain over a period of several months—the results of the study make clear the benefits to people of maintaining a regular fitness regimen, says study co-author Carmen Vivar of the Centro de Investigacion y de Estudios Avanzados del IPN in Mexico.

Mature Man Jogging

“Our study provides insight as to how chronic exercise, beginning in young adulthood and continuing throughout middle age, helps maintain memory function during aging, emphasizing the relevance of including exercise in our daily lives,” said Vivar.

“Long-term running may enhance pattern separation ability, our ability to distinguish between highly similar events and stimuli, a behavior closely linked to adult neurogenesis, which is among the first to display deficits indicative of age-related memory decline.”

older female runner

The study doesn’t offer guidance on how many kilometers or minutes runners should target to maximize their brain health. The researchers do underscore the importance of consistency, however, noting the value of maintaining daily exercise from early adulthood through middle age in bringing about the memory benefits cited in the study.

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