How Exercise Strengthens the Brain

running benefits

running benefitsI love to exercise. For me, a day simply isn’t complete until I can squeeze in a sweat session. It helps clear my mind and relieve stress. Many people enjoy the mind-body benefits. Physical activity is proven time and time to be good for the mind, but how that works has remained somewhat mysterious. Exercise has been shown to increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps neurons grow and strengthens the synapses (connections) between them.

Now, a new study published in the journal eLife shows precisely how exercise alters and improves the brain. Researchers worked with a population of healthy mice, half in cages with running wheels and half without. Those with the wheels ran several miles each day and those without were sedentary. After four weeks, the scientists analyzed the brain tissue from the hippocampus in both groups of animals. As predicted, the BDNF levels were much higher in the brains of mice who ran. The scientists delved further, looking at the specific gene known to create BDNF and discovered it was more active in the mice that exercised and clusters of a specific molecule blocked signals in the sedentary mice, so less BDNF was produced. The same molecules were found in the active mice, however the molecules didn’t block messages so the BDNF production continued. Ketones, produced during strenuous exercise as the body breaks down fat for fuel, also loosen the molecules so BDNF production continues during and after exercise.

This is only the beginning, as it’s not clear the same processes occur in the human brain. This is only one of the many ways exercise effects the brain, but it’s pretty exciting to see the direct link and an extra motivator for lacing up the running shoes or hopping on the bike.

How does your spa help clients get motivated to exercise?

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