A Harvard University study found that an apple a day and a pleasant walk will not only keep the doctor away but can reverse age-related alterations in brain signals, which may prove hopeful for the older generations. It is no surprise that during aging, the nervous system undergoes changes and these alterations might be due to synaptic changes within the brain. Synapses permit information flow from one neuron (cells processing & transmitting info) to another in the brain.

A study conducted by Harvard University and Salk institute for Biological Studies used genetically modified mice in the young adult and old phase and subjected these mice to specific diet and exercise regimen and then later noted the structural changes. The key result was that both of these regimen showed the age related gradual reversal of structural alterations at the Neuro muscular junction (NMJ) in the mice.

The primary job of the NMJ is to control voluntary movement by skeletal muscle contractions using signals from specific neurons to muscle fibers in the body. Although it may take few seconds for all of this to occur, it is nevertheless a complicated process requiring great precision. Thus studying, this particular system might offer clues to age related changes in the brain.

Exercise give way to reversal of structural alterations rather than completely reverse degeneration or deterioration of these neurons and muscle fibers. In the study, the mice subjected to the exercise regimen were proved more stable and showed a great degree of dynamism compared to the sedentary mice, when their NMJ structures were compared.

Mice subjects subjected to diet restrictions had a sparing of NMJ aging, while exercise regimen, consisting that of a running wheel showed less fragmented synapses at specific key muscular sites. However it was noted that by observing the NMJ structure that benefits of exercise was only partial to the particular muscles involved during the exercise.

It is common in many of these biological studies to use mice models to further support or draw conclusions about structural changes that might occur in the human body. By noting changes in the NMJ of the mice reveals that exercise can partially reverse these age-related changes in humans as well.

Although earlier findings have informed that implementing caloric restrictions and exercise are beneficial towards older adults in terms of behavior, it is novel to see evidence about the alterations specifically at the synaptic level in brain cells. These discoveries might even lead to clues about tackling other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, which is a common threat in the older population today. Hopefully, these findings can further lead to finding interventions that can expand health and lifespan in the near future. Therefore, further biological evidence in this area can indeed lead to a Ponce de Leon like innovation.


  • Poornima Peiris is an engineer interested in all things STEM related. She is the founder of an initiative encouraging women and minorities to pursue STEM related careers. She has conducted research in various stem disciplines at national labs and was a participant of NASA's space grant program. She is currently working on producing her own science podcast with her local community. Her scientific contributions include a publication in a scientific journal & besides reading up on scientific innovations, she also loves to read books on neuroscience, paint landscapes & create personalized wedding gifts. Aside from dabbling in the creative arts, she does fencing & tennis. Always a Sri Lankan at heart, she loves the ocean & spring weather. She currently splits her time between Massachusetts & New York.