It’s even better. A new study finds that exercise increases levels of a protein known to strengthen communication between brain cells through synapses, which may be a key factor in keeping dementia at bay.

The protective effect was even found in active elderly people whose brains showed signs of plaques, tangles, and other features of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia.

“Synapses are the critical communication junctions between nerve cells and are really where the magic happens when it comes to cognition,” said study author Kaitlin Casaletto, assistant professor of neurology at the Memory and Aging Center. ‘University of California, San Francisco, in an email.

“All of our thinking and memory is the result of these synaptic communications,” she added.

Previous studies have shown that physical activity can reduce the risk of dementia by 30-80%, “yet we don’t understand how it happens biologically in humans,” Casaletto explained.

“We have described, for the first time in humans, that synaptic function may be a route through which physical activity promotes brain health,” she said, adding that the study could not show than an association, not necessarily a cause and effect.

Still, Casaletto added, “I think these findings are starting to support the dynamic nature of the brain in response to our activities, and the ability of the aged brain to develop healthy responses to activity even in the most advanced ages.”

Protein regulation is the key

A well-functioning brain keeps electrical signals flowing smoothly through neuron-to-neuron synapses and to other cells in the body. To do this, the brain must constantly replace the proteins that are worn out in these synapses, while ensuring that they are properly balanced and regulated.

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“There are many proteins present at the synapse level that help facilitate different aspects of cell-to-cell communication. These proteins must be in balance with each other for the synapse to function optimally,” Casaletto wrote .

It’s all part of how the brain reshapes its neural circuits, keeping them healthy.

Studies in mice have long shown the protective effect of exercise on the brain after autopsy, but establishing this link in humans has been difficult.

In this new study, published Friday in Alzheimer & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, researchers were able to study human brains. They analyzed the protein levels in people who had donated their brains to science as part of the Memory and Aging project at Rush University in Chicago. On average, the people studied were between 70 and 80 years old, Casaletto said.

As part of this project, physical activity at the end of life of elderly participants was also monitored. The results showed that people who moved more had more protective protein.

“The more physical activity, the higher the levels of synaptic proteins in brain tissue. This suggests that every movement matters for brain health, ”said Casaletto.

“We recommend aiming for 150 min / week of physical activity. Previous studies have shown that even walking is linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline!” She added via email.

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And it seems to work regardless of whether a person already has markers for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, she added.

“Several previous studies consistently show … higher levels of these same synaptic proteins in brain tissue are associated with better cognitive performance, independent of plaques and tangles,” she wrote.

“These data reinforce the importance of making regular physical activity part of our daily lives, no matter our age, no matter what our age,” said Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association, which partially funded the study.

“It’s important to find an exercise that you enjoy so that it can be sustainable in your routine. For older people, it’s important to discuss any new physical activity with your doctor to make sure it’s safe to do. “added Snyder, who was not involved in the study.

How to move

Want to start exercising, but don’t know where to start? We asked CNN Fitness Contributor Dana Santas for her top tips for adding more exercise to your life.
Don’t try to do everything at first. You’re just going to injure yourself and derail your motivation, said Santas, who is a body-mind trainer for professional athletes. Instead, start with breathing and movement exercises designed to reconnect your mind and body. So, start walking! Try to climb at a moderate to fast pace.

“Start by walking for just five to 10 minutes a day for the first few days as you determine the best time and place for your walks,” Santas said. “Once you’ve figured out the logistics, start adding a few more minutes to each walk. Ideally, you want to achieve around 20 to 30 minutes per day. “

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If you want to add weight training, she said, you can follow this video.

Just as important to adding movement to your life, advises Santa Claus, is to make it a habit.

“Take steps to make it sustainable so that it becomes a part of your lifestyle that you are proud of and enjoy rather than looking at it negatively, as a chore,” Santas said.

She suggests “stacking up” or doing simple exercise before, after, or during a normal daily task, such as making bed, showering, and brushing teeth.

“For almost eight years now, I’ve been doing 50 bodyweight squats or two-minute wall sit positions while brushing my teeth,” Santas told CNN.

Adding movement to everyday tasks can quickly add up. Let’s say you got up and moved three times an hour during your work day.

“That’s 24 minutes of exercise a day. Add another 10 minutes of walking or climbing stairs before or after work, and you’d be down to 34 minutes a day, or 170 minutes per five-day work week.” , said Santas.

“That’s well above the weekly threshold of 150 minutes, or two and a half hours, recommended by the World Health Organization – without ever setting foot in the gym.”

You want to know more ? Join Santas for a seven-part newsletter series to kickstart your exercise goals for the New Year.