THE BALL – Alzheimer’s disease: physical exercise helps to delay cognitive decline (article Vítor Rosa, 223) (University Space)

Irisin (a hormone and protein released by physical exercise) is believed to help strengthen short-term memory, thus preventing cognitive decline. According to an international study published in the journal Nature Medicine, the proteins and hormones released by exercise can delay the onset of diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

According to information available on the website of the Portuguese Association of Families and Friends of Alzheimer’s Patients, “Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes a global, progressive and irreversible deterioration of various cognitive functions (memory, attention, concentration, language, thinking , among others). This deterioration results in changes in the person’s behavior, personality and functional capacity, making it difficult to carry out their daily activities”. Augusto Cury tells us, in “Never give up on your dreams” (Bertrand, 2016), “From a scientific point of view, nothing is as drastic for memory and for the world of ideas as brain breakdown. Memory becomes disorganized, billions of pieces of information are lost, thoughts become detached from reality, consciousness plunges into the void of unconsciousness. Everything and nothing become the same thing” (p. 43).

To reach the conclusion that irisin could help combat cognitive decline, researchers worked on mice. When they analyzed them, they noticed that rodents with lower than average levels of irisin in the brain had short-term memory problems and less ability to strengthen their synapses, i.e. the connections between neurons that support the flow of information and recall. of memory in the brain. Another important observation to note is this: when they blocked irisin signals, rodents did not benefit from the cognitive boost normally triggered by exercise. This protein is therefore the key to a strong memory, the study notes. “Our findings show that irisin could be a new therapy to prevent dementia in at-risk patients. It also delays the progression of the disease in patients in more advanced stages”, underline the researchers. If some scientific advances have been made, it is still noted that the mechanisms through which irisin influences brain function remain unclear. Therefore, more research is needed.

This study is not the first to highlight the benefits of physical exercise on the brain and memory. In 2016, American researchers found that physically active people had more developed gray matter than sedentary people, thus reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In their study, the scientists observed a reduced risk of dementia among seniors who enjoy gardening, those who prefer cycling over driving and those who enjoy swimming. They also observed that people who already had the disease or a slight cognitive deficit could delay cognitive decline through the practice of sport. The more calories patients burn, the less gray matter they lose in the brain areas responsible for memory and cognition.

Victor Rosa

Sociologist, Post-Doctorate in Sociology and Sports Sciences, PhD in Physical Education and Sports, Didactics.