A short bout of exercise enhances brain function

Posted on July 10, 2019

Neuroscientists at OHSU in Portland, Oregon, working with mice, have discovered that a short burst of exercise directly boosts the function of a gene that increases connections between neurons in the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with learning and memory.

Previous research in animals shows that regular exercise promotes general brain health. However, its easy to understand the overall benefits of exercise to the heart, liver and muscles from the specific effect on the brain. For example, a healthy heart oxygenates the whole body, including the brain.

Neuroscientists further attempted to find out potential brain specific benefits of exercising, other than the heart, liver and muscles. Scientists designed a study in mice that specifically measured the brain’s response to single bouts of exercise in otherwise sedentary mice that were placed for short periods on running wheels. The mice ran a few kilometres in two hours.

This study found that short bursts of exercise – for example weekly game of pickup basketball, or 4000 steps – promotes an increase in synapses in the hippocampus. Scientists made the key discovery by analysing genes that were increased in single neurons activated during exercise.

One gene is the Mtss 1L – it is a gene that encodes a protein that causes bending of the call membrane. Researchers discovered that when this gene is activated by short bursts of exercise, it promotes short growths on neurons known as dendritic spines – sites at which synapses form.

Overall, studies have shown that an acute burst of exercise is enough to prime the brain for learning. The next stage of research, scientists has planned to pair acute bouts of exercise with learning tasks to better understand the impact on learning and memory.

Source material from Science Daily

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