Alzheimer’s disease is a common cause of dementia that effectively ends a person’s quality of life by slowly destroying memory and thinking skills, and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest task. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s so the condition becomes a growing concern later into the ageing process. However, as Dr Mosley pointed out on his podcast Just One Thing – with Michael Mosley, squatting may act a buffer against the brain degeneration.
Dr Mosley caught up with Professor Damian M Bailey, professor of physiology and biochemistry at University of South Wales’ Neurovascular Research Unit to find out more.
“We’ve looked at not your usual exercises such as running, walking and cycling, but focusing on squat stands,” said professor Bailey.
Squat stands involve intermittent squatting down and standing up.
As professor Bailey explained, this is an “intelligent” form of exercise.
This is because you are “intermittently challenging the brain with an increase
of blood flow and a decrease in blood flow”, he explained.
“This toing and froing from high-flow to low-flow challenges the inner lining of the arteries that supply blood to the brain.”
Prof Bailey continued: “We think this it’s good because it realises the good chemicals that the brain needs to grow the things it needs to grow to become more intelligent.”
Dr Mosley went on press professor Bailey on the “actual clinical evidence” to substantiate his claims.
Prof Bailey replied: The evidence is becoming increasingly that different parts of the brain grow and blood flow to different parts of the brain can also increase, including, for example, the hippocampus.”
Hippocampus is a complex brain structure that plays a major role in learning and memory.
Prof Bailey cited a recent study conducted in Cardiff that found acute exercise increases blood flow to the hippocampus by a “remarkable” amount.
As we get older, he explained, the hippocampus tends to shrink and blood flow this region of the brain decreases.
This mechanism has been linked to the “cognitive decline” and “neurodegenerations” of Alzheimer’s that occurs in later life, prof Bailey said.
Dr Mosley asked whether squats or press-ups confers greater benefits then going for a walk or run.
Prof Bailey said in response: “Good question. What we have identified is that three to five minutes of squat stands three times a week is even more effective in terms of how the brain is adapting and responding to that exercise than steady-state exercise.”
It is therefore almost a “mini-form” of interval training for the brain, he said.