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Running through middle age can keep brain healthy and neurons wired: study

In this Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 file photo, a man jogs at Pier A Park in Hoboken, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File) In this Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 file photo, a man jogs at Pier A Park in Hoboken, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Exercising as you age can help maintain memory and fight cognitive decline, according to a new study.

In the study, researcher's from Florida Atlantic University and Mexico's National Polytechnic Institute looked at the long-term effects of running on the brains of mice. They found middle-aged rodents with access to a running wheel did a better job of maintaining the wiring of older neurons linked to memory.

"Our study provides insight as to how chronic exercise, beginning in young adulthood and continuing throughout middle age, helps maintain memory function during aging, emphasizing the relevance of including exercise in our daily lives," study co-author and National Polytechnic Institute researcher Carmen Vivar said in a news release.

The researchers focused on neurons formed during early adulthood that were connected to the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with learning and memory. The hippocampus and connections with adjacent parts of the brain are among the first structures affected by aging-related cognitive decline, which can be delayed or prevented in part through exercise, according to the study.

"Long-term running may enhance pattern separation ability, our ability to distinguish between highly similar events and stimuli, a behaviour closely linked to adult neurogenesis, which is among the first to display deficits indicative of age-related memory decline," Vivar said.

The study also showed long-term running can increase the number of adult-born neurons, which are important cells that send signals within our brains and bodies.

"Long-term exercise profoundly benefits the aging brain and may prevent aging-related memory function decline by increasing the survival and modifying the network of the adult-born neurons born during early adulthood, and thereby facilitating their participation in cognitive processes," co-author and Florida Atlantic University associate professor of biomedical science Henriette van Praag explained in the news release.

The study was published this month in the peer-reviewed academic journal eNeuro.

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