New Research Sheds Light on How Exercise Can Benefit the Brain

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It's been a well-known fact for years: exercise is good for you, both for the muscles and the mind.

But have you ever wondered exactly why?

New research is shedding light on how working out can benefit your brain.

A Columbia University Medical Center study shows that getting out and working out targets the area of the brain affected by normal age-related memory loss.

There are many reasons to exercise..

"They want to hold on to their flexibility, their overall agility and coordination, and in addition to that want to have some stress release," said Stacey Beck, Wellness Coordinator at Unity Fitness in Eau Claire.

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Exercises 3-4 days per week
"You seem to be more alert during the day," said Eau Claire resident Kyle Johnson, who exercises three to four times per week.

"After I exercise, I feel better," said Eau Claire resident Stan Kohlepp, who exercises six times per week.

But for the people we talked to, improving their memories wasn't on the list.

"I don't think so, not right now anyway," Kohlepp said. "I seem to remember pretty good!"

Even if you're not hitting the gym to boost brainpower, new research shows how exercise helps cut down on memory loss.

"There's a change in the part of the brain possible to memory, the hippocampus," said Dr. Donn Dexter, a neurologist at Luther Midelfort. "These are new findings and they were able to do this based on new technologies."

Researchers at Columbia used MRIs to look at the growth of neurons in the brains of people before and after exercising.

That allowed researchers to see the changes as the brain was working while people were working out - something Dr. Dexter says could have a groundbreaking impact on medicine.

"This is going to revolutionize the diagnosing of Alzheimer's and dementia," Dexter said. "In the past, diagnosis were made clinically, based on symptoms and findings from an exam. But now, we're going to have tests."

It's not clear what kinds of exercise can help our brains, but researchers at Columbia say that's next on the agenda.