Well we already know that exercise is great for your physical health, and many of us see benefits to our mental health as well.
However, exercise could be good for your brain in more ways.
Specifically, helping your brain function better and make you smarter!
Full research paper here at Working with mice and their brains. The neuroscientists out of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland have found that short bursts of exercise boost the function of a gene that is responsible for increasing connections between neurons in the hippocampus (this is the part of the brain tied to learning and memory).
Exciting for a few reasons
It shows a direct relationship between exercise and the brain, and not just a sort of side effect. In the past it’s difficult to determine which are the overall benefits of exercise to the muscles, heart, and liver (e.g. exercise benefits your heart and a healthy heart gets oxygen to the brain) and which are the benefits that are specifically affecting the brain.
This study involved otherwise sedentary mice and single bouts of exercise (in humans, this would be equivalent to a pickup game of basketball or walking 4,000 steps). They placed the mice on running wheels for specific periods of time and found that there was an increase in synapses in the hippocampus. The neuroscientists analyzed the genes that were increased in single neurons activated during the exercise.
The gene that excited them the most was Mtss1L, which encodes a protein that bends the cell membrane and, when activated, promotes small growths on neurons known as dendritic spins, the site where synapses form.
In short, the study showed that a single acute burst of exercise is enough to ready the brain for learning. Pretty cool.
The research will continue, and in the next stage they’re going to pair the bursts of exercise with actual learning tasks to gain a better understanding of the impact on learning and memory.