They found that these physically active mice had fewer inflammatory cells (leukocytes) than sedentary mice, an effect they traced to diminished activity of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs). The lower activity of HSPCs was due at least in part to exercise-induced reduction in the levels of leptin, a hormone produced by fat tissue that regulates cells within the hematopoietic bone marrow niche.
Regular physical activity is associated with a lower rate of death from heart disease, but the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. Frodermann et al. examined the effect of exercise on cardiovascular inflammation, a known risk factor for atherosclerosis, by studying mice that voluntarily ran for long distances on exercise wheels.
Dementia is a complicated disease that has multiple causes and risk factors, some of which remain unknown. Nevertheless, there is increasing evidence that people—even those who inherit genes that put them at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s in later life—can improve their chances by adopting lifestyle changes.
“It’s not just about running three times a week,” says Sarah Lenz Lock, executive director of AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health. “Instead, it’s about a package of behaviors, including aerobic exercise, strength training, a healthy diet, sleep and cognitive training.”
When it comes to battling dementia, the unfortunate news is this: Medications have proven ineffective at curing or stopping the disease and its most common form, Alzheimer’s disease. But that isn’t the end of the story. According to a recent wave of scientific studies, we have more control over our cognitive health than is commonly known. We just have to take certain steps—ideally, early and often—to live a healthier lifestyle.
In fact, according to a recent report commissioned by the Lancet, a medical journal, around 35% of dementia cases might be prevented if people do things including exercising and engaging in cognitively stimulating activities. “When people ask me how to prevent dementia, they often want a simple answer, such as vitamins, dietary supplements or the latest hyped idea,” says Eric Larson, a physician at Kaiser Permanente in Seattle and one of a group of scientists who helped prepare the report. “I tell them they can take many common-sense actions that promote health throughout life.”