Sex, mental and physical exercise, fight dementia

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Friday, April 8, 2005 Professor Perry Bartlett of University of Queensland's Brain Institute recommends sex, cryptic crosswords and a good run to stave off dementia.

The researcher, interviewed on Australian ABC radio today [1], said that with 52,000 Australians expected to be diagnosed with dementia by the end of the year, people wishing to ward off the degenerative disorder may benefit from activities which stimulate growth of new cells in the brain, accompanied by mental exercise to select for survival of the resulting crop of new cells.

"Quite prolonged exercise is very good to make new neurones," said the Professor. "These new nerve cells are really quite vital to our ability to function in the higher brain functions, such as memory and learning. Most of them die. We now know that we can preserve some of them by giving direct stimuli."

Professor Bartlett explained recent research findings, including those from collaborator Jeffrey D. Macklis [2] at Harvard in the US.

"There are a lot of hormones and changes in blood that go up and down after exercise, and so that may be a lead to some of the chemicals that can drive the production of nerve cells.

"One of the chemicals that seems to promote neurogenesis is prolactin, and prolactin levels are very high in pregnant females. Prolactin levels, by the way, also go up during sex as well. So one could think of a number of more entertaining activities than running in order to regulate the production of nerve cells.

"Perhaps doing something a little more inquisitive or intellectual might be good at selecting their survival. So perhaps one should run a long distance and do the cryptic crossword or something like that," he said.

Professor Bartlett gave the same suggestions as being potentially helpful in depression, last year in an interview on the ABC Science Show. [3]

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