Thursday, November 8, 2018

Exercise Rewires Your Brain

It works for Japanese mice. Why shouldn’t it work for you?

Exercise, that is. Intrepid Japanese rodents have been undertaking a vigorous exercise routine. Five times a week, for an hour at a time. Happily, the researchers are not pretending that this exercise cures depression-- how would measure rodent depression?-- but it does rewire their brains. It enhances cognition and improves mental functioning.

I am sure you knew this already, but, just in case, here’s a report from a site called The Scientist (via Maggie’s Farm).

For an hour a day, five days a week, mice in Hiroshi Maejima’s physiology lab at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, hit the treadmill. The researcher’s goal in having the animals follow the exercise routine isn’t to measure their muscle mass or endurance. He wants to know how exercise affects their brains.

Researchers have long recognized that exercise sharpens certain cognitive skills. Indeed, Maejima and his colleagues have found that regular physical activity improves mice’s ability to distinguish new objects from ones they’ve seen before. Over the past 20 years, researchers have begun to get at the root of these benefits, with studies pointing to increases in the volume of the hippocampus, development of new neurons, and infiltration of blood vessels into the brain. Now, Maejima and others are starting to home in on the epigenetic mechanisms that drive the neurological changes brought on by physical activity.

In October, Maejima’s team reported that the brains of rodents that ran had greater than normal histone acetylation in the hippocampus, the brain region considered the seat of learning and memory.1 ,The epigenetic marks resulted in higher expression of Bdnf, the gene for brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). By supporting the growth and maturation of new nerve cells, BDNF is thought to promote brain health, and higher levels of it correlate with improved cognitive performance in mice and humans.

Of course, I am not qualified to explain the workings of the hippocampus. For that, please refer all questions to Christine Blasey Ford. After all, she has a doctorate in education.

Anyway, researchers are now recommending that patients who are suffering from neurological impairment, as well as with mental health issues, repair to the gym.

With a wealth of data on the benefits of working out emerging from animal and human studies, clinicians have begun prescribing exercise to patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as to people with other brain disorders, from epilepsy to anxiety. Many clinical trials of exercise interventions for neurodegenerative diseases, depression, and even aging are underway. Promising results could bolster the use of exercise as a neurotherapy.

“No one believes exercise is going to be a magic bullet,” says Kirk Erickson, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.”

The article offers an extensive and detailed analysis of the research on this topic. If you are so inclined, I recommend it to your attention.

1 comment:

Ares Olympus said...

My running coach has a motto "Rx Exercise" and I always considered it more propaganda than fact, but any propaganda gets us off the TV couch, car seat or computer desk seems good.

The problem remains that an hour/day is a big commitment for busy adults. The mind will always rationalize "I don't have time", and you only recognize the self-deception if you actually inventory all the time you can waste in a day. But at least 30 minutes seems a good minimum, or get a pedomoeter or fitbit for 10,000 steps if you want to mix it up all day.

For me having an upcoming race helps motivate me, but 5k races are getting pricey. Recently I found a group called Parkrun which organizes free 5ks run every Saturday morning at 9am, and they've got a global system, so you can even jump in at races if you travel, and all your results are compiled on the same website. They're crazy popular in UK, but lots expanding in the US.