Did You Remember to Exercise Today? Improve Your Memory with Aerobic Activity

Physical Exercise Increases Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis in Male Rats Provided It Is Aerobic and Sustained (J Physiol 2016;594:1855–1873. doi: 10.1113/JP271552)

What is the problem and what is known about it so far?

It's widely accepted that aerobic exercise, such as jogging, has health benefits. In addition to strengthening the heart and lungs, aerobic exercise can help lower cholesterol, reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, improve immune function, and lower blood pressure. Studies have also shown that aerobic exercise can have positive effects on the brain by increasing the growth of brain cells in an area involved in memory and learning. However, less is known about how other types of exercise affect the brain.

Why did the researchers do this particular study?

Researchers wanted to know whether high-intensity training (short bouts of very intense exercise with recovery periods) and resistance training (exercise using an opposing force like dumb bells or resistance bands, also known as weight training) have positive effects on brain structure and function and whether one has more benefits than the other.

Who was studied?

Rodents (mostly mice and rats) are often used as models for scientific testing because their genetic, biological, and behavior characteristics closely resemble those of humans, and many symptoms of human conditions can be replicated in mice and rats. The researchers studied four groups of rats. One group did not exercise. Another group completed aerobic exercise (running in a wheel). Two more groups completed exercise that was not aerobic: one with high-intensity training and the other with resistance training.

How was the study done?

The rats in the exercise groups completed the physical activity regimen for 6-8 weeks. Then researchers looked at the effects on the brains of the rats in all the groups and compared the findings.

What did the researchers find?

The rats that performed aerobic exercise (running on a wheel) had the most improved brain cell growth. High-intensity training had a very small positive effect on brain cell growth. Resistance training did not affect brain cell growth, despite having a positive overall effect on health.

What were the limitations of the study?

The studies were performed on male rats only. In future studies, it would be preferable to test both sexes and animals of different ages.

What are the implications of the study?

Exercise can not only strengthen the body, but also the brain. Certain types of exercise can help improve brain functions like learning and memory by increasing brain cell production. According to the findings of this study, aerobic exercise such as running promotes brain cell growth more than high-intensity anaerobic training, and weight training does not promote brain cell growth.

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