Why Running Seems to Boost Memory
Wouldn’t it be great if every time you were forced to run after your kids or chase a bus, your effort was also helping to boost your memory? A new study suggests that running boosts memory recall thanks to the release of a muscle by-product.
Prior studies had supported findings that regular exercise changes the brain and improves memory and thinking skills. In those studies the findings seemed to suggest that exercise leads to a reduction of insulin resistance, overall reduction of inflammation, and also stimulates the release of growth factors. The release of growth factors directly affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and may also support the abundance and survival of new brain cells. In these studies, any aerobic activity, including brisk walking, seemed to confer the benefits.
In this new study published in the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers wanted to screen for proteins that might be secreted during exercise by muscle tissue and then transported to the brain. One of the candidates that seemed intriguing was a poorly understood protein, cathepsin B. The researchers exposed muscle cells in a dish to compounds that mimic exercise, and the increase of cathepsin B was noted. Higher levels of this protein were also found in the blood and muscle cells of mice that exercised daily for several weeks on exercise wheels.
In a second step of the same study, when cathepsin B was directly applied to brain cells it instigated the production of certain molecules associated with neurogenesis (formation of nervous tissue). The researchers tested and compared memory recall in normal mice to the recall of mice that could not produce cathepsin B, due to certain impairments. Testing was done after both groups had sedentary time, and then running time through specific mazes with the goal of finding a swimming platform. After running the mazes for several days, the normal mice were more easily able to find the platform, while the impaired mice could not remember the location.
The function of cathepsin B still remains controversial, since it’s also secreted by tumors and has been implicated in cell death and the formation of amyloid plaques (associated with Alzheimer’s disease) in the brain. The researchers plan to do more tests to see how this molecule navigates the blood-brain barrier, and how it activates neuronal signaling, growth and connections.
The clear message from this and other studies is that regular exercise pays off. The more committed you are to exercise, the more substantial the payoff from a physical and mental perspective. Obviously, getting your kids to enjoy regular fitness activities can confer lifelong benefits. One of the core elements of the HealthCorps and the HCU curriculums is helping teens to develop an understanding of the benefits of exercise and to inspire them to maintain a sustained relationship with fitness activities.