We all know about the benefits exercise could have on our bodies, mood and mental health, but did you know that it might even make us brighter? A recent mouse study by neuroscientists from the University of Oregon shows that in exercise directly improves the function of the gene responsible for increasing connections between neurons (nerve cells) in the hippocampus, the part of the brain linked to learning and memory.
Researchers measured the brain responses of usually inactive mice to short, single bouts of exercise on running wheels. On the wheels, the mice covered a distance of a few kilometres in the space of two hours.
The results of the study found that these short bursts of exercise led to more connectivity between the hippocampal neurons in the mice’s brains. The researchers discovered this by studying genes that were found to be increased in the neurons and were activated during the exercise sessions.The gene that stood out to researchers is called the Mtss1L gene, which was seen to be activated by exercise. This gene encourages neurons to grow structures that help them connect with other neurons, which leads to more signals being sent across the part of the brain where this happens.Christina Chatzi PhD, the co-lead author of the study, describes this discovery as “exciting” because not much attention was paid to the gene in past studies.
What does this mean?
Researchers say that this study indicates that mini bouts of activity are enough to gear the brain up for learning, but, more studies need to be done before we can draw any conclusions. In the next stage of this research, scientists will look at the effects of this type of exercise alongside learning tasks to understand its impact on learning and memory better.
How can humans exercise in “short bursts”?
The mice’s exercise routine for this study was described by researchers as the equivalent of a weekly pick-up game of basketball or 4000 steps on a pedometer. So, nothing lengthy or continuous.While it’s true that it’s too early to definitely say that exercise will make you more intelligent or a better learner, with all the perks it can have on our well-being, why not give it a go? After all, getting in some movement is better than no movement at all!
Written By Tesneem Ayoub
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