Exercise That Stimulates Brain Plasticity

“This New York Times article about brain change in mice reports that mice who underwent intensive treadmill exercise showed more plastic change than mice who underwent normal treadmill exercise or none.

Reading on the article also has some interesting bits about other studies involving exercise and cognition:

“…fundamental questions remain, like whether exercise must be strenuous to be beneficial. Should it be aerobic? What about weight lifting? And are the cognitive improvements permanent or fleeting?

“Other recent studies provide some preliminary answers. In an experiment published in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, 21 students at the University of Illinois were asked to memorize a string of letters and then pick them out from a list flashed at them. Then they were asked to do one of three things for 30 minutes — sit quietly, run on a treadmill or lift weights — before performing the letter test again. After an additional 30-minute cool down, they were tested once more. On subsequent days, … the students were noticeably quicker and more accurate on the retest after they ran compared with the other two options, and they continued to perform better when tested after the cool down.

““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, says Henriette van Praag, an investigator in the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. 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.” van Praag says.

“Jen cautions against assuming human bodies work exactly like those of rats. But there are lessons from his work. “It would be fair to say that any form of regular exercise,” he says, if it is aerobic, “should be able to maintain or even increase our brain functions.””

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