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Exercise Boosts Brain Plasticity, Study

Update Date: Dec 10, 2015 09:13 AM EST

Our brain's neurons can keep changing with experience, learning and memory through a process called "brain plasticity." With exercise, the adult brain becomes more plastic, said scientists from the University of Pisa in Italy, according to their study.

The research was showing the visual cortex, that exhibited the potential for the recovery of patients who had amblyopia and traumatic brain injury.

"We provide the first demonstration that moderate levels of physical activity enhance neuroplasticity in the visual cortex of adult humans," Claudia Lunghi, co-author of the study, said in a press release. "By showing that moderate levels of physical activity can boost the plastic potential of the adult visual cortex, our results pave the way to the development of non-invasive therapeutic strategies exploiting the intrinsic brain plasticity in adult subjects."

While the human brain is very plastic early in life, it decreases with age, development and experience, which is evident in the brain's sensory areas. A bigger difference is seen when the plasticity of young adults as well as aged ones are compared.

The team subjected 20 adults through a couple of "deprivation tests". With visual deprivation, an imbalance can be created between the eyes, which indicate visual plasticity. One test showed the subjects with one eye watching a movie while he was seated. In another test, the participants were watching the movie "eye-patched" even as they exercised on a stationary bike at 10-minute intervals. Hence, brain plasticity seemed greater in the participants who were exercising.

"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 a condition in which, during the two hours of patching, the subject watches a movie while sitting on a chair," said Lunghi. "That is, after physical activity, the eye that was patched is strongly potentiated, indicating increased levels of brain plasticity."

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