You must have read that doing regular exercise will improve your overall health and reduce your chances for cardiovascular diseases. Even mild exercise like walking has tremendous health benefits. I was going through my daily health news reading and read that physical exercise can increase your brain power and make you smarter. I would like to discuss the studies that were conducted on rats and humans pointing towards benefits of exercise in simulating your brain.
What do the experiments on rats revealed?
Researchers at National Cheng Kung University reported a study in Journal of Physiology in May 2009 that revealed that mouse that harder improved their thinking ability.
Researchers split the mice in two groups and let them run through a water maze to observe their response time in moving away from it. Both groups of mice were subjected to different type of exercise for next four weeks. One group ran inside their rodent wheels, which they thoroughly enjoyed. The other group was put on more aggressive exercise by use of mini treadmills with controlled speed and duration. I found it interesting that such mini treadmill exists or scientist developed it for mice to conduct their experiment than earlier trail. The interesting fact was the group that was subjected to minitreadmills was better in, what scientist called, avoidance task, a skill that requires more complicated cognitive response.
Also, scientist looked at brains of mice under microscope and it was found that the treadmill mice showed molecular changes in brain at several places as compared with wheel runners that showed changes at only one area. According to Chauying J. Jen, a professor of physiology and an author of the study – different forms of exercise induce neuroplasticity changes in different regions of brain.
Laboratory mice are preferred species for scientist and are used in many investigations. But, scientists round the world have been working on relationship between molecular changes in brain with exercise. In fact, scientists at the Salk Institute in California published the groundbreaking finding that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells that too ten years ago. The outstanding question was that should the level of exercise be strenuous in order to reap the benefits?
Scientists at University of Illinois published a study in Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine in April 2009, which points towards aggressiveness of exercise and brain power. In the study 21 students were asked to memorize a string of letters and pick those letters from a list. Following this, students were divided into three groups and asked to do following for 30 mins; either sit quietly, run on a treadmill or lift weights. Additional 30 min cool down time was given to the students and were tested again...
thereafter. Students were subjected to this routine repeatedly for several consecutive days.
It was interesting to note students that ran on treadmill constantly gave quicker and more accurate response as compared to the other two groups. Charles Hillman, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Illinois and an author of the study, said that “There seems to be something different about aerobic exercise”.
One study conducted on elderly people was reported in The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, in 2006 exhibited similar findings. Elderly people were assigned a six-month program of either stretching exercises or brisk walking. The stretchers increased their flexibility but did not improve on tests of cognition. The brisk walkers did.
If you are thinking, why the exercise should be aerobics in order to have a positive impact on brain, then you are on right track. Henriette van Praag, an investigator in the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, said that “It appears that various growth factors must be carried from the periphery of the body into the brain to start a molecular cascade there,” creating new neurons and brain connections. For that to happen, “you need a fairly dramatic change in blood flow,” like the one that occurs when you run or cycle or swim. Weight lifting, on the other hand, stimulates the production of “growth factors in the muscles that stay in the muscles and aren’t transported to the brain,” van Praag says.
You might be thinking of mice, in which, both groups did aerobic type exercise but one group showed more benefit than the other. As per the Taiwanese scientists, mice on a running wheel enjoy and hence show less improvement as compared to the group the treadmill ones were forced to pant and puff. Researchers suspect that treadmill running is more intense and leads to improvements in “muscle aerobic capacity,” and this increased aerobic capacity, in turn, affects the brain more than the wheel jogging.
Scientists do not have the accurate reasons for improvement in brain power after aerobic type exercise, but the scientific findings are truly interesting. With medical community moving towards the preventive type care, it is more important for all of us to recognize benefits of such exercise in improving our heart, brain and overall fitness. In fact, some health insurance companies are planning or giving incentives to join fitness centers and taking responsibility of your own health. I think, it is relatively cheaper to improve and maintain your health through exercise than be on medicine or any other kind of medical procedure. You never know, when you will outsmart Einstein simply by running on treadmill everyday!