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Research that wants to discover the most effective physical exercises to keep the brain healthy

looking for volunteers

A multidisciplinary team from the University of Coimbra (UC) is developing a research project to uncover regular physical exercise’s impact on cognition and brain function.

Researchers aim to discover which types of exercise can bring the most benefits to prevent cognitive decline in ageing.

The project Studying the effects of regular exercise on the brain and biomarkers of neuroinflammation and neurogenesis seeks volunteers in the Coimbra region, aged between 55 and 75 years old, to participate in a free exercise program for 12 weeks, which will take place in 2024 at the Coimbra University Stadium.

“Physical exercise has the ability to reverse or delay the cognitive decline associated with ageing”, contextualizes the professor at the Faculty of Sports Sciences and Physical Education at UC (FCDEFUC), Ana Maria Teixeira, and the researcher at the Faculty of Medicine at UC (FMUC) and the Center for Biomedical Imaging and Translational Research (CIBIT) of the Institute of Nuclear Sciences Applied to Health (ICNAS), Maria Ribeiro. With this study “we intend to investigate which type of exercise program offers the greatest benefit and which brain changes result from exercise and which best explain the improvements observed”, explain the project coordinators.

“The results of this research will inform how best to use physical exercise to prevent the loss of cognitive abilities and brain diseases associated with ageing. It is also expected to increase the physical and functional capacity of participants and a consequent improvement in quality of life”, explains the researchers.

Participants will have the opportunity to integrate an exercise program of two weekly training sessions, each lasting 45 minutes, throughout the 12 weeks of intervention. The training program includes low-impact aerobic training exercises. A PhD student in Physical Activity and Health will guide and supervise the sessions.

Brain function and biomarkers of neurogenesis (the process of neuron formation in the brain) will be tested before and after exercise programs, to assess the impact of the program on participants’ brain function, through the electroencephalogram (EEG). This neurophysiological examination records the electrical activity of the brain and allows the study of its function in a non-invasive way, cognitive assessment and blood tests.

Exclusion factors for participation in the study include health problems that prevent the practice of physical exercise, a history of cardiovascular, neurological or psychiatric disease, head trauma or current consumption of psychoactive substances (for example, anxiolytics, antidepressants, antipsychotics or beta-blockers).

Registration for participation in the exercise program runs until the end of this month and can be made on the website, via email or by calling 915 234 593.

This research will count on the participation of several faculties and research centres at the University of Coimbra: Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Faculty of Sports Sciences and Physical Education, Institute of Nuclear Sciences Applied to Health, Center of Biomedical Imaging and Translational Research, Research Center in Neuropsychology and Cognitive-Behavioral Intervention and Research Center in Sport and Physical Activity.

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