Researchers in Italy concluded a study that shows exercise may enhance the essential plasticity of the adult brain. Neuroplasticity is the ability of neurons — or nerve cells — to change with experience. Learning, memory and brain repair depend on neroplasticity, the study says.
Brain plasticity was, till now, generally thought to decline with age. This decline in the brain’s flexibility over time is especially pronounced in the sensory brain, which displays far less plasticity in adults than in younger people.
“We provide the first demonstration that moderate levels of physical activity enhance neuroplasticity in the visual cortex of adult humans,” said Claudia Lunghi from the University of Pisa, Italy.
“By showing that moderate levels of physical activity can boost the plastic potential of the adult visual cortex, our results pave the way for the development of non-invasive therapeutic strategies exploiting the intrinsic brain plasticity in adult subjects,” Lunghi added.
The findings focused on the visual cortex come as hopeful news for people with conditions like amblyopia (sometimes called lazy eye), traumatic brain injury, and more.
The researchers measured the residual plastic potential of the adult visual cortex in humans using a simple test of binocular rivalry.
In the study, the researchers put 20 adults through two tests. In first test, participants with one eye patched watched a movie while relaxing in a chair. In the other, participants with one eye patched exercised on a stationary bike for ten-minute intervals during the movie.
The results were clear: brain plasticity was enhanced by the exercise.
“We found that if, during the two hours of eye patching, the subject intermittently cycles, the perceptual effect of eye patching on binocular rivalry is stronger compared to the arrangement in which, during the two hours of patching, the subject watches a movie while sitting on a chair. Exercise plays an important role in brain health and recovery. They come as especially good news for people with amblyopia, which is generally considered to be incurable in adults,” Lunghi explained.
The study was published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.