Exercise benefits without slogging away at the gym? New study offers hope

Aug 21, 2023
This breakthrough may hold promising prospects for older individuals who may find it challenging to partake in regular exercise. Source: Getty Images.

Preliminary studies conducted by researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) have revealed that an infusion of a distinct blood component has the potential to mimic the positive effects of physical activity on the brain.

Dr. Odette Leiter and Dr. Tara Walker from UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute found that platelets—Tiny blood cells that are essential for coagulation—release a protein capable of revitalising neurons in older mice, similar to the impact of engaging in exercise.

“We know exercise increases production of new neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain important for learning and memory, but the mechanism hasn’t been clear,” Leiter said.

“Our previous research has shown platelets are involved, but this study shows platelets are actually required for this effect in the aged mice.”

This breakthrough may hold promising prospects for older individuals who may find it challenging to partake in regular exercise, offering them a potential avenue to rejuvenate their minds and bodies through an innovative approach.

As part of their study, researchers examined exerkines, which are natural substances released into the blood when you exercise, which are believed to stimulate the exercise-induced response in the brain.

“We discovered that the exerkine CXCL4/Platelet factor 4 or PF4, which is released from platelets after exercise, results in regenerative and cognitive improvements when injected into aged mice,” Leiter said.

Walker said their findings have significant implications for the development of drug interventions.

“For a lot of people with health conditions, mobility issues or of advanced age, exercise isn’t possible, so pharmacological intervention is an important area of research,” she said.

“We can now target platelets to promote neurogenesis, enhance cognition and counteract age-related cognitive decline.”

The researchers said the next step is to test the response in mice affected by Alzheimer’s disease, before human trials are conducted.

“It’s important to note this is not a replacement for exercise,” Walker said.

“But it could help the very elderly or someone who has had a brain injury or stroke to improve cognition.”

While the latest research suggests that the arduous gym routine for cognitive benefits might eventually fade, it remains vital for older adults to maintain a consistent exercise regimen for their overall well-being.

If you’re over 60, regular exercise is crucial in maintaining your health and independence and ensuring you have the energy to do more of what you love, like playing with the grandkids.

Not only does regular exercise help you maintain an active lifestyle, but it can help to decrease the risk of developing serious conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, while helping to lift your mood and improve your mental health as well as your immunity.

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