Most of you have probably heard that working out not only makes you feel better but also gives your brain power a boost. But is this really true? And if so, how is exercise related to enhanced mood or cognitive abilities/performance?
So…. Everyone knows that living a sedentary lifestyle is not the way to go. In fact, a sedentary lifestyle brings about a wide array of negative consequences; one of them being increased risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. However, exercise has been determined to serve as a protective factor that can reduce the incidence of cancer, heart disease, and even diabetes.
Van Praag wrote a review in which she revised many of the known benefits of exercise. Take a look:
- Enhancement in cognition
- Counteracts age-related memory decline
- Delays the onset of neurodegenerative diseases
- Aids in recovery after brain injury
- Helps in recovery from depression
I suppose you’re wondering: but, how?!
Thus far, the current notion on the mechanism by which all these benefits occurs is via increased and robust neurogenesis (or neuronal birth) in the hippocampus. If you’d like to learn a bit more about neurogenesis, click here for an older post on that topic. Physiologically, exercise not only increases the number of neuronal proliferation, but also the number of spines and dendrites (remember that this is where messages from other neurons arrive to!).
Adult neurogenesis is dependent/can interact with many factors including:
- Environmental Enrichment
- Physical Activity
As you would probably assume, stress and aging are associated with decreased adult neurogenesis while enriched environments and exercise are associated with increased neurogenesis. Moreover, exercise-induced neurogenesis has been linked to enhanced hippocampal synaptic plasticity, as modeled by long-term potentiation (a physiological model of learning and memory) studies from different labs. Additionally, changes in synaptic plasticity have been observed to occur in the same regions in which neurogenesis was stimulated through exercise!
This is the main review I used for this post. It’s a great resource because it talks about neurogenesis and exercise as well as the relationship with cognition (and other diseases like Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, etc…)