Health & Wellness

Exercise May Help Ward Off Dementia

Exercising releases a hormone that may fight memory loss and brain damage


By Katrina Caruso


During exercise, a hormone called irisin is released in our bodies. According to study results published in January in the journal Nature Medicine, that hormone may help improve brain function, combat memory loss, and reduce the damage done by dementia.

Discovered in 2012, irisin produced by the muscles during a workout, and it affects the metabolism along with other reactions in the body. By studying the brains of recently deceased people, the researchers established that irisin occurs in the brain—and that higher levels of the hormone were found in the brains of those who didn’t have dementia when they died, whereas only very small amounts were found in the brains of those who had Alzheimer’s disease.

The more recent research involved mice, some of which had been bred to develop a rodent version of Alzheimer’s. When the mice with Alzheimer’s had their brains infused with a high dosage of irisin, they showed signs of better cognitive function and improved memory. In another test, irisin levels rose in healthy mice that exercised and they subsequently showed improvements in their cognition.

Many studies have already pointed to the positive effects of exercise on the brain. For example, one study, published in the journal Neuroimage in May 2016, showed that running can improve cognitive functions and even lead to new brain cells being created in the hippocampus (where memories are stored and formed in the brain). Another study, published in NeuroBiology in Learning and Memory in March 2018, yielded positive results related to the effects of stress on the hippocampus and how running may reduce stress.

Other studies have shown that exercise can reduce the risk for getting Alzheimer’s disease, and that it can help those who are starting to show signs of dementia and even slow down its development. The question scientists faced was: Why? Now we may be closer to the answer. The next step for irisin research is to look into testing a pharmaceutical form of the hormone on animals with dementia, so that the testing can eventually involve humans and possibly produce an effective treatment.

Meanwhile, if you aren’t active, you should be—even a little bit of exercise, 10 minutes a day, has shown to have positive effects on the brain.

Photo: Juice Images.