Exercise is cheap. You don’t need to have an expensive gym membership to reap the benefits of it. And in fact, for most people, exercising 30 minutes per day-whether that is a brisk walk during lunch break or you break it up into 5-minute spurts throughout the day- is enough to maintain optimal health. We even wrote a blog post on how you can “sneak” exercise into your daily routine here. We have hunch however, that you already know that exercise is great for bodily health. But did you know that researchers now say exercise could make you smarter too?
While scientists have known for a long time that exercise increases the amount of endorphins in your brain-this leads to a sense of well-being which is one of the reasons why you feel energized after exercising-it’s only recently that they are reporting that exercise has the potential to make you smarter too.
In fact, new research published in June 2019 shows that you don’t need a ton of exercise to benefit. In fact, the premise of this new research suggests that short bouts of exercise are enough to increase your “smartness” and improve learning. In this post, we’ll discuss what the research is and how it affects you. Let’s delve right into it.
Exercise and your brain: What new research says.
Neuroscientists at the Oregon Health and Sciences (OHSU) School of Medicine in Portland Oregon recently reported new research that shows that exercise could make us smarter. Most research studies looking at the effect of exercise, have looked at it over a time span and the long-term effects of it. This has helped us understand a lot about the importance of exercise as a lifelong habit.
However, it is easy to neglect the common and seemingly mundane when it comes to scientific research. So while there are many studies that have looked at exercise as a lifelong habit, nobody had really looked into what happens to the brain after one instance of exercise.
In this study, the researchers used mice as their study subjects. The mice were exposed to running wheels for two hours each and ran an approximate distance of 3km (Around 1.5 miles). One hour after this exercise, the scientists looked at the brains of these mice.
Just one hour after exercise, scientists noticed increased activity in the neurons (brain cells) of the mice that had just exercised versus the ones that did not exercise. Apart from this, the neuroscientists also noticed that in the mice that exercised, the brain cells grew brand new dendrites (spider-like extensions) which also meant that the neurons were forming new synapses
Your brain cells communicate by sending chemical messages in the form of chemicals called neurotransmitters or in the form of electrical impulses.
A synapse is the junction between one brain cell and the next which allows this communication to be possible. Thus, the more synapses a person has, the more likely they are to have a higher functioning brain.
In this study, the research scientists were able to show that just one burst of activity was enough to trigger increased activity in the brain cells and increased the number of dendrites and synapses in the brain cells of the mice which had exercised.
In fact, there is research out there that suggests that even in adults who have fully-formed brains, new synapses form when you try to learn something new, especially something that involves a movement such as learning how to play tennis for the first time.
New synapses form in this case to help you learn that new skill. What does this mean for you? This new research is exciting for important reasons.
- The most obvious observation here is the fact that exercise can induce the formation of new synapses which could enhance your learning abilities.
- In this case, the scientists showed that just one episode of exercise results in the above observation. This is excellent because if you’re reading this and wondering if you need to exercise 2 hours per day, 7 days a week to derive the potential brain benefits of exercise, you can put those fears to rest.
- One of the very early symptoms found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions is the destruction of synapses. With this new research that is showing that new synapses form when you exercise, exercise could be a way to slow down the onset of these diseases.
Need evidence that exercise is good for your overall brain health? There you have it.