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Could exercise be a potent weapon against neurodegenerative conditions?

Feb. 27, 2023 Medical News Today

On average, we are living longer, but we may not be living healthier. According to European Union figures, women can expect, on average, 64.5 healthy life years (HLYs), and men, 63.5.

But life expectancy in the EU is just over 83 years for women and 77.5 for men. So, on average, a person can expect to spend around 15-20 years with some sort of health problem. 

And most of those years of ill health are likely to be the later years of life, and many people will develop a neurodegenerative disease.

Estimates indicate that 14–18% of people over the age of 70 years in the United States have some form of cognitive impairment. And some 10% of people in the same age group in the U.S. have dementia, a number that rises to 33% of those over 90.

But there are ways to help extend your HLYs, and evidence is increasingly suggesting that regular physical activity may be one of the most effective ways to help your body and brain stay healthy for longer.

Exercise for mental and physical health

Exercise makes us feel better — higher levels are associated with lower levels of depression, and it is thought this is due to a natural “high” from the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids, which can last for some time after exercising — but the physical effects last longer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), regular physical activity is “one of the most important things you can do for your health.”

Medical experts everywhere agree with that statement. Speaking to Medical News Today, Dr. Emer MacSweeney, CEO and consultant neuroradiologist at Re:Cognition Health, emphasized:

“Being physically active is one of the best things you can do for your body. Exercise helps protect against many diseases and keeps the heart, muscles, bones, and brain in optimum condition. Exercise promotes [the] oxygenation of the brain and stimulation of multiple neurochemicals.”

Exercise can reduce the risk of, among other conditions, cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

And, together with a healthy diet, it is a key part of maintaining a healthy body weight — another way to lower the risk of disease.

Research has shown that endorphins can relieve pain, and may reduce both inflammation and stress responses. Additionally, exercise can increase the beneficial effects of medications and other therapies for mental health conditions, such as depression.

“Exercise is particularly beneficial for mental health due to the chemical changes which occur in the brain and body, including the release of ‘feel-good’ chemicals, endorphins and serotonin,” Dr. MacSweeney explained.

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