Exercise can freshen and renovate the white matter in our brains, potentially improving our ability to think and remember as we age, according to a new study of walking, dancing and brain health. It shows that white matter, which connects and supports the cells in our brains, remodels itself when people become more physically active. In those who remain sedentary, on the other hand, white matter tends to fray and shrink. 

The findings underscore the dynamism of our brains and how they constantly transform themselves — for better and worse — in response to how we live and move. 

A few brisk walks a week might be enough to slow or stave off memory decline. 

The idea that adult brains can be malleable is a fairly recent finding, in scientific terms. Until the late 1990s, most researchers believed human brains were physically fixed and inflexible after early childhood. We were born, it was thought, with most of the brain cells we would ever have and could not make more. In that scenario, the structure and function of our brains would only decline with age. 

But science advanced, thankfully, and revised that gloomy forecast. Complex studies using specialised dyes to identify newborn cells indicated that some parts of our brains create neurons deep into adulthood, a process known as neurogenesis. Follow-up studies then established that exercise amplifies neurogenesis. When rodents run, for example, they pump out three or four times as many new brain cells as inactive animals, while in people, beginning a program of regular exercise leads to greater brain volume. In essence, this research shows, our brains retain lifelong plasticity, changing as we do, including in response to how we exercise. 

This article was published in The Age on August 3rd, 2021, and it’s well worth the read. Read the full story here. https://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/how-walking-can-stave-off-memory-decline-20210720-p58b7i.html?btis