Cardio Exercise Reverses Cognitive Decline In Older Mice That Run:
One of the things we can all worry about perhaps too much is, are we getting enough reward for the effort we put in?
This happens a lot on weight-loss plans, because to achieve the goals people are after they need to combine nutrition and exercise.
And of course with the nutrition part it’s worse, because if there’s one thing people hate it’s math.
So that puts a lot of people off calorie-counting, even though it works.
It’s hard to shoot for the right numbers when you’re not sure what they are.
On that note, Australian researchers are finding some very Freakonomics-like, but encouraging numbers on how exercise might help us stay young in a very important way…
The Short Answer:
- Sometimes it’s hard to judge what results we get for the effort we put out.
- This is notoriously-true for diet & exercise programs.
- Anti-depressants like Prozac encourage brain-cell growth.
- There is an old wives’ tale that you can only lose brain-cells after you’re born, (or the phase that your brain stops growing).
- Several studies have proved this wrong, including the current work by a University of Queensland team.
- Their work shows specifically that even older mice can grow new brain cells through cardio exercise like running.
- Strangely-enough the center of growth was in the brain’s memory-center.
- The mice needed a cocktail of both added growth hormone and less stress-steroid to make this happen.
- Cardio exercise makes this happen in both mice and humans, though the specific agents may be different.
- Weirdly though, the UQ study shows the sweet-spot for mice is 35 days of running 1km/day.
- This limit is unlikely to exist for humans, because one of the main things we evolved to do is run.
- Different researchers have found several other ways to start neurogenesis, but so far nothing seems to beat running.
- Still other teams have confirmed the “cocktail” theory. The other components found were BDNF and endocannabinoids.
- Cardio and running produce lots of BDNF and they may do more good things for your brain besides growing new neurons.
- Don’t get any sneaky ideas about quitting your new exercise routine after 35 days!
Read on to find out the details…
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Some of the interesting things anti-depressants do is they encourage brain-cell growth,
And also provide a good environment for those new brain-cells to stay and not be pruned away.
This is something like the main action that’s believed to be behind Prozac.
Which is a bit of a weird development, because for the longest time, we were told that you get a certain number of brain-cells when you are born.
Then for the rest of your life, you do nothing but lose them.
… But is that really true or just an old wives’ tale?
Well, it turns out it’s not true, and the recent work by Queensland University has some interesting things to offer.
Their work shows that (at least mice) can absolutely grow new brain cells.
Luckily, one of the all-time healthiest things we can do is exactly what makes them grow; cardiovascular exercise.
So if that’s true, then can you make a good brain better, or even a struggling one functional?
The UQ team found that one out too, and the answer is also yes!
In studies done comparing the learning ability of young and old mice, they found:
1) The young ones were really a lot sharper
2) The old ones repeated the same mistakes
After being allowed to run for about 1km/day, the old mice improved so much they became at least cognitively equal to a sedentary young mouse.
The tests after all that exercise showed they were growing lots of new cells in the brain’s memory-center, the hippocampus.
But when the researchers looked a little closer, they noticed something even more interesting.
Just like that earlier statement about anti-depressants, they found that two main criteria had to be met.
1) Growth-Hormone had to be present to make the brain-cells grow
2) A stress-related steroid had to be reduced by the biochemistry so the cells would survive
Isn’t it funny that when you run or do some other cardio over a minimum time-period, you start to feel really good?
Maybe something like the same conditions in the mouse brains is happening in ours, too.
(Actually it is. It’s not endorphins though, it’s endocannabinoids.)
Now as a side-note that may not be of too much importance.
But there was actually a limit to how much the mice could exercise and still show positive results on cognition.
They could run about 1km/day for 35 days. Any less than that would not get the right results, and any more wouldn’t get them either.
But that aside, the main takeaway from studies like this is that growing new brain-cells is possible.
Most importantly, the work really suggests that growing new cells for people who are not young anymore is also possible.
So there is always hope to improve your brain with some cardio.
But don’t get scared off by a mouse running 1km/day, which for a human is like 8 miles if you go by average stride length.
Although humans were basically built to run, and we do distance-running better than anything on Earth,
You probably do not have to spend 35 days straight running 8 miles/day to improve your brain function.
Actually Sandrine Thuret, the queen of neurogenesis, has a whole list of all the different things you can do to grow yourself some new brain-cells.
Over at the super-post from her TED talk.
A few of the items on that list are:
One of the other big takeaways from that post was from the scans,
It looks like running can make brain-cells grow at almost 10x the speed of sedentary people
So there is a lot of potential to be unleashed and you may not have to be a marathoner or a sprinter to do it.
Really long walks, riding the exercise bike, or any cardio you can do for awhile (maybe as little as 30 mins/day) might be good enough.
Even prior to this “sweet-spot” study, Dr. Rudy Tanzi’s team looked into running, too.
They also tried to make brain-cells grow with things like growth hormone or other things.
And they too found the weird two-step combination of chemicals that really makes usable brain-cells that actually stick around.
One to make them grow, and another to keep them from being pruned-away too fast.
Guess what they found reproduces that Prozac-like combination? BDNF.
And that Brain-Derived-Neurotrophic-Factor is exactly what’s produced in quantities when you do cardio,
So much so that it clears away all kinds of junk, including the type of chemicals that would prune-away new brain-cells before they were fully-grown.
Now let’s not get any crazy ideas and start thinking that 35 days of exercise is all you have to do.
That’s not really the point of this research or this post.
Because there’s getting in shape, and then there’s staying in-shape.
And almost all the positives we have in life are things we can do as a routine or a discipline over the long-term.
Running references aside, the fable of The Tortoise And The Hare teaches us that long-term almost always beats short-term.
-So just in case you were getting any funny ideas about quitting your new cardio plan, now that you know you can grow new brain cells,
And quite-possibly do a lot better, like clearing out all kinds of gunk from your brain!
One More Thing: If other recent studies are any indicator, for humans there might not even be a limit to the benefits of cardiovascular exercise; so another reason to not get stuck on that 35 number.