Activity for the brain

Although human genes have not changed in the last 40,000 years, our daily movement has been reduced to a range of a few hundred feet. Yet we are still optimally adapted to the life of hunters and gatherers. Not only does our musculoskeletal system suffer from a lack of exercise, our cholesterol level rises. Only through controlled endurance training do we train the muscles to burn fat again. The average sedentary desk worker burns only carbohydrates, and deposits cholesterol directly into the blood vessels.

Our brain also profits from physical activity. After just a few minutes of movement, the oxygen supply to the brain doubles. Long-term benefit: The movement increases the cross-linking of brain cells. It is not the number of our brain cells that determines our intelligence, but the degree to which our brain cells are cross-linked. And this networking can be influenced by physical activity at any age.

Such results were supported in a large field experiment led by sports physician Wildor Hollmann, emeritus sports scientist of the International Federation of Sports Medicine, in which a large group of people aged 60+ was divided into three subgroups. The first group was the control group with no particular activity. The second group underwent a 30-minute daily memory training for one year. The third group had to walk for half an hour every day for a year. After one year they were all examined again: In the control group, memory performance was reduced by 4% after one year. The second group with memory training saw memory performance improve by 20%. The third group -- and this was the surprise -- saw a 40% improvement in memory performance, although its members only trained their legs and not specifically their brains.

Dr. Hollmann found that the movement of the legs significantly increased the cross-linking of the brain cells, which in turn enables the brain cells to communicate better. The "spines," the side branches of the brain cells, also grew again, a function that is particularly important for short-term memory. Older people can often talk for hours about the Second World War and even recite poems from their school days, but have forgotten what happened 10 minutes ago.