Be wise: exercise

December 12, 2011 —

Most people agree that exercise is good for one’s body. A recent study in Ireland offers evidence that it’s also good for our brains, and not just because we feel proud of ourselves for having gotten off the couch.

In the study, reported in The New York Times, scientists had a group of sedentary male college students watch a fast lineup of photos with the faces and names of strangers. They were then asked to recall the names as they again viewed the photos.

Moving these may pump up your brainpower.

Next, half the group rode stationary bicycles for 30 minutes, while the other half sat quietly. Then both groups again took the photo-name memory test. The students who had exercised performed significantly better than they had on their first try, while the resting students did not improve. In addition, blood samples taken throughout the experiment revealed that after exercising, the cycling students had significantly higher levels of the protein brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. This protein is known to promote the health of nerve cells, the Times reported.

Findings of other recent studies – including on elderly and adult rats and experienced human pilots ages 40 to 65 – were similar, showing that exercise may increase BDNF levels, enhance memory centers and perhaps help us maintain the ability to perform skilled tasks.

Of course, research often raises more questions than it answers, and we have a lot yet to learn about our brains. But it appears we are wise – and maybe wiser – to exercise. Happy moving!


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