New research combining postmortem examination of brain tissue with testing during life has revealed what researchers believe to be an as-yet unexplained connection: higher levels of physical activity (PA) and motor skills seem to create a “cognitive reserve” that buoys cognitive performance during life, even in the presence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Lewy body disease, and other brain pathologies associated with dementia.
For the study, published ahead of print in Neurology, researchers examined brain tissue from 454 participants involved in the Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP). The subjects participated in a battery of annual clinical assessments and agreed to brain donation at the time of death. The clinical tests included 21 cognitive assessments, an analysis of 10 motor abilities, and an estimation of total daily PA drawn from accelerometers worn constantly for 10 days (researchers in this study used only the first 7 days’ data).
If you want to learn to walk a tightrope, it’s a good idea to go for a short run after each practice session. That’s because a recent study in NeuroImage demonstrates that exercise performed immediately after practicing a new motor skill improves its long-term retention. More specifically, the research shows, for the first time, that as little as a single fifteen-minute bout of cardiovascular exercise increases brain connectivity and efficiency. It’s a discovery that could, in principle, accelerate recovery of motor skills in patients who have suffered a stroke or who face mobility problems following an injury.
In his earlier work, Marc Roig, the senior author on the study, had already demonstrated that exercise helps consolidate muscle or motor memory. What he and the McGill-based research team sought to discover this time was why exactly this was the case. What was going on in the brain, as the mind and the muscles interacted? What was it that helped the body retain motor skills?