As you know, exercise has a multitude of positive effects. While this has been clearly shown in humans, studies with mice provide even more information.
Previous research had shown that mice that grew up in an “enriched environment” retained a more youthful brain into adulthood. This included access to a running wheel and increased social and cognitive stimulation.
The researchers continued their study to determine if physical exercise alone could have these benefits. In addition, they wanted to figure out if such exercise could protect and possibly rehabilitate the brain after a stroke.
And the answer was yes!
To test this, the researchers looked at the brain’s “plasticity.” This term represents the brain’s ability to change its activation in response to an experience.
When young, animals can change eye dominance when the visual input into one is interfered with for a few days. The other eye will then take over. Older animals raised without any stimulation do not possess this ability.
The researchers confirmed what is known about the effects of voluntary exercise on preventing aging. In addition, the older mice that had exercised were able to change their eye dominance. This means they preserved a more youthful brain as they aged.
Even more exciting—the mice that had exercised could change eye dominance and could do so after a stroke. And to top it off, the researchers discovered that even mice with no previous exercise experience showed a positive recovery from the stroke once they started exercising.
The implications for humans are stunning. Exercise has the potential to provide a simple and effective method to rehabilitate patients that have suffered a stroke and to protect people who are prone to strokes.
These findings are so significant that the lead author of this study started exercising again. Professor Dr. Siegrid Lowel restarted her cycling. She told Science Daily that the research indicates “that it is never too late to benefit from exercise.”