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Exercise May Increase Brain Plasticity, TBI Recovery

Recovery from a traumatic brain injury is a complex process that is all about retraining the brain. Doctors use a variety of treatments to improve cognitive ability. Now, an Italian study suggests that physicians should add moderate exercise to the mix in order to increase brain plasticity and speed TBI recovery.

Recovery from serious traumatic brain injury requires a full-spectrum approach. Patients may need surgery, medications, mental health treatment, physical therapy, and even speech or occupational therapy. While doctors have known for a while that patients benefit from being mobile, a new study from the University of Pisa suggests that moderate exercise may allow for a faster recovery.

The study evaluated the result of exercise on brain plasticity – the ability of neurons to change with experience. Plasticity is most common in children and decreases as a person gets older. Differences in development and experience can affect how well the brain shapes and changes. Brain plasticity is also key to recovering from traumatic brain injuries. It allows the brain to rewire itself to use uninjured pathways instead of damaged neurons.

To test whether exercise can increase brain plasticity, Claudia Lunghi, co-author of the study, put human subjects through two tests. She temporarily covered one of each patient’s eyes and then asked them to do one of two activities: intermittently ride a stationary bicycle or watch a two-hour movie. Then she measured how much the closed eye strengthened – a sign of brain plasticity.

In a press release, Lunghi said:

“By showing that moderate levels of physical activity can boost the plastic potential of the adult visual cortex, our results pave the way to the development of non-invasive therapeutic strategies exploiting the intrinsic brain plasticity in adult subjects.”

That means that doctors treating TBI victims can use moderate exercise routines to increase their patients’ potential for recovery.

“Our study suggests that physical activity, which is also beneficial for the general health of the patient, could be used to increase the efficiency of the treatment in adult patients,” Lunghi says. “So, if you have a lazy eye, don’t be lazy yourself!”

For TBI victims as a result of auto accidents, this finding could also mean that auto insurance providers will have to provide benefits for personal trainers and gym memberships when prescribed by a TBI doctor. Michigan no-fault auto insurance must cover any medical expenses related to the auto accidents. So prescribed exercise routines will be covered.

David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He represents TBI victims to make sure all of their medical expenses are covered. If you or a loved one is facing TBI recovery, contact Christensen Law for a free consultation.