Is exercise habit forming? Maybe. Can exercise change the way you think? Absolutely. Is exercise the magic bullet to avoiding all the dreaded neurodegenerative diseases? Probably not, but it certainly helps.
The study by Ashley Yeager entitled, “As researchers unravel the molecular machinery that links exercise and cognition, working out is emerging as a promising neurotherapy” published in The Scientist shows the links of regular exercise with specific improvements in brain function, cognition and memory-related tasks among other things.
Researchers have long recognized that exercise sharpens certain cognitive skills including 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. 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.
Does that mean that working out can make one smarter? Maybe not, but it does improve the changes of fending off Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease and aids in other brain disorders from epilepsy to anxiety.
Over the past two decades, researchers have identified many molecular mechanisms underlying exercise’s influence on cognition. Exercise, studies have shown, leads to the release of proteins and other molecules from muscle, fat, and liver tissue that can affect levels of BDNF and other agents that spur neurogenesis, speed new-neuron maturation, promote brain vascularization, and even increase the volume of the hippocampus in humans. Mice that ran frequently on wheels had higher levels of BDNF and of a ketone that’s a byproduct of fat metabolism released from the liver. Injecting the ketone into the brains of mice that did not run helped to inhibit histone deacetylases and increased Bdnf expression in the hippocampus. The finding shows how molecules, derived from physical activity, can travel through the blood, cross the blood-brain barrier, and activate or inhibit epigenetic markers in the brain. Other researchers have contributed to this work by identifying other pieces to the puzzle including cathepsin B, which enhanced the expression of a gene called doublecortin (DCX), which encodes a protein needed for neural migration.
Researchers also found that nonhuman primates and humans who ran on treadmills had elevated blood serum levels of cathepsin B after exercising. Following four months of running on the treadmill three days per week for 45 minutes or more, participants drew more-accurate pictures from memory than at the beginning of the study, before they started exercising.
The results described in this article offers support for the 58 clinical trials currently being done on exercise, cognition, and Alzheimer’s disease. The nearly 100 ongoing trials investigating exercise’s role in easing Parkinson’s symptoms, and hundreds more looking at exercise as an intervention against depression. Some researchers are even testing the effects of exercise on aging.
A handful of research groups have now begun to pains-takingly look for other molecules released during exercise that could enhance the activity of Bdnf and other brain-boosting genes and it’s becoming clear that what’s happening in the body affects the brain.
It all boils down to keeping that New Year’s Resolution to exercise more and become healthier. Exercise can and does affect the brain and neurological functions in humans. Move it and make it better!
The whole article can be viewed at this link.
To help you keep that New Year’s Resolution, you should utilize Superior Toxicology & Wellness to help with your workload to create more time for you to get to the gym. We are happy to help and can be reached through the contact form with any questions or comments.
Dr. Joe Nieusma and the Superior Toxicology & Wellness Team