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In a review of more than 1,600 papers and studies examining the effects of exercise on human physiology, Mayo Clinic researchers found significant evidence that physical activity helps to preserve brain function, and may even reverse cognitive damage to some degree.
The researchers looked at animal studies, observational papers and scientific literature in order to compile an unbiased conclusion on the effects of aerobic exercise on memory and learning skills.
"We concluded that you can make a very compelling argument for exercise as a disease-modifying strategy to prevent dementia and mild cognitive impairment, and for favorably modifying these processes once they have developed," said researcher and Mayo Clinic neurologist J. Eric Ahlskog, M.D., Ph.D.
Authors of the study noted that brain imaging studies have been particularly supportive of the ability of exercise to preserve the integrity of the brain. Moreover, trials on animals have suggested that physical activity stimulates cellular changes that are known to improve cognition.
The researchers noted that their findings suggest that healthcare providers should recommend increased activity levels to patients worried about developing dementia or Alzheimer's.