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More Motivation To Exercise

More Motivation To ExerciseDuring a recent interview on NBC’s Today, Tufts fitness and nutrition expert Miriam Nelson discussed the role of exercise in boosting brain power and preventing disease.

Boston [03.26.07] Everyone has different motivations for going to the gym: Some people want to shed pounds, while others hope to improve their overall physical health. New research suggests there are two more reasons to work out: Exercise can boost brain power and help fight disease. According to Tufts fitness and nutrition expert Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., these new findings further underscore the importance of physical activity.

“[Exercise] is really important for your brain as well as reducing your risk of breast cancer,” Nelson, director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told NBC’s Today. She explained that a new study—with no ties to Tufts—shows that aerobic exercise can help the brain grow new nerve cells that improve its performance in key areas.

“What we're seeing is that new nerve cells are growing . . . and they're connecting,” she told Today. “When you get those connections, your brain functions better.”

Nelson, who is also an associate professor of nutrition at the Friedman School, explained that the cell connections take place mainly in the hippocampus—or the part of the brain responsible for multitasking, memory, problem solving and name recognition. As people get older, many of these abilities start to decline.

“The data would show right now that exercising . . . in your 30s, 40s and 50s will make a difference for reducing the risk of getting Alzheimer's as you get older,” Nelson told Today. She noted that, years ago, researchers discovered that people who exercised had a reduced risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. “We've also known that people with mild cognitive impairment also have improved function with exercise,” she added.

Still, Nelson described the new research linking physical activity and nerve cell growth as “exciting.” She added that there’s more promising news about exercise: it may help prevent breast cancer.

A recent study—the California Teachers Study—followed 110,000 women with no prior history of breast cancer from 1995 until 2002. According to Nelson, the findings indicated that women who exercised more than five hours a week had the greatest reduction in breast cancer. She added that earlier research showed that exercise also benefited women who already had the disease.

“One of the first studies was the Nurses Health Study that followed 3,000 people for 14 years,” she told Today. “And they saw between a 26 to 40 percent decrease in death and recurrence in individuals who already had breast cancer.”

With proven benefits when it comes to the brain and the body, Nelson told Today that physical activity will remain a standard part of her life. “As a woman with a history of Alzheimer's in my family, I'm certainly going to keep exercising,” she said.


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