Get Exercise. Think Better.

We all know that exercise strengthens our muscles and contributes to overall health. Now, there is solid evidence for the benefits of physical exercise on the brain.

In a recent article in the New York Times, “How Exercise Can Strengthen the Brain,” Gretchen Reynolds summarizes a new study at the University of South Carolina. This study focused on mice, measuring the impact of exercise on their brains. Here are some excerpts from Reynolds’ article:

Like muscles, many parts of the brain get a robust physiological workout during exercise. “The brain has to work hard to keep the muscles moving” and all of the bodily systems in sync, says J. Mark Davis, a professor of exercise science at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina and senior author of the new mouse study, which was published last month in The Journal of Applied Physiology. Scans have shown that metabolic activity in many parts of the brain surges during workouts, but it was unknown whether those active brain cells were actually adapting and changing. . . .

This is the first report to show that, in mice at least, two months of exercise training “is sufficient stimulus to increase mitochondrial biogenesis,” Dr. Davis and his co-authors write in the study.

The finding is an important “piece in the puzzle implying that exercise can lead to mitochondrial biogenesis in tissues other than muscle,” says Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of medicine at McMaster Children’s Hospital, who was not involved with this experiment but has conducted many exercise studies. . . .

More immediately, Dr. Davis speculates, re-energized brain cells could behave like mitochondrial-drenched muscle cells, becoming more resistant to fatigue and, since bodily fatigue is partly mediated by signals from the brain, allowing you to withstand more exercise. In effect, exercising the body may train the brain to allow you to exercise more, amplifying the benefits.

Revitalized brain cells also, at least potentially, could reduce mental fatigue and sharpen your thinking “even when you’re not exercising,” Dr. Davis says.

Of course, this study was upon mice, not humans. But, it’s likely that human brains would respond similarly to mice brains when human bodies exercise.

The moral of the story? If you want to think better, get regular exercise. And watch out for those smart mice.


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