Can working out strengthen your brain?
That’s the question that a group of scientists at the University of South Carolina have been studying recently: they assembled mice and assigned half to run for an hour a day on little treadmills, while leaving the rest to laze about in their cages without exercising.
Earlier studies have shown that exercise sparks neurogenesis, or the creation of entirely new brain cells. But the South Carolina scientists were not looking for new cells. They were looking inside existing ones to see if exercise was whipping those cells into shape, similar to the way that exercise strengthens muscle.
The scientists found that physical exercise literally strengthens the brain by creating new mitochondria (the power plants of your cells) in your brain, or at least in the brains of mice.
When they examined tissue samples from different portions of the exercised animals’ brains, they found markers of upwelling mitochondrial development in all of the tissues. Some parts of their brains showed more activity than others, but in each of the samples, the brain cells held newborn mitochondria.
There was no comparable activity in brain cells from the sedentary mice.
Mouse Brains Comparable To Human Brains?
From The New York Times:
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.
Of course, this experiment was conducted with animals, and “mouse brains are not human brains,” Dr. Davis says. “But,” he continues, “since mitochondrial biogenesis has been shown to occur in human muscles, just as it does in animal muscles, it is a reasonable supposition that it occurs in human brains.”
Best of all, the effort required to round your brain cells into shape is not daunting. A 30-minute jog, Dr. Davis says, is probably a good human equivalent of the workout that the mice completed.
Just 30 Minutes Of Jogging Will Do The Trick
A daily half-hour jog? Everyone can make time for that. As I advocate in my book, Get Out! 150 Easy Ways for Kids and Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future, here’s just one more reason to go outside and exercise! What are you waiting for?
Photo Credit: iStock
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