How do strong muscles keep your brain healthy?
Myokines are released into the bloodstream when your muscles contract, create new cells, or perform other metabolic activities. When they arrive at the brain, they regulate physiological and metabolic responses there, too. As a result, myokines have the ability to affect cognition, mood, and emotional behavior. Exercise further stimulates what scientists call muscle-brain “cross talk,” and these myokine messengers help determine specific beneficial responses in the brain. These can include the formation of new neurons and increased synaptic plasticity, both of which boost learning and memory.
In these ways, strong muscles are essential to healthy brain function.
In young muscle, a small amount of exercise triggers molecular processes that tell the muscle to grow. Muscle fibers sustain damage through strain and stress, and then repair themselves by fusing together and increasing in size and mass. Muscles get stronger by surviving each series of little breakdowns, allowing for regeneration, rejuvenation, regrowth. As we age, the signal sent by exercise becomes much weaker. Though it’s more difficult for older people to gain and maintain muscle mass, it’s still possible to do so, and that maintenance is critical to supporting the brain.
Even moderate exercise can increase metabolism in brain regions important for learning and memory in older adults. And the brain itself has been found to respond to exercise in strikingly physical ways. The hippocampus, a brain structure that plays a major role in learning and memory, shrinks in late adulthood; this can result in an increased risk for dementia. Exercise training has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampuseven late in life, protecting against age-related loss and improving spatial memory.