New research suggests that regular exercise does more than improve fitness - it can actually improve brain power and make you smarter.
The report found that mice which took part in running exercises performed better on memory tests. These mice also grew more new cells in a part of the brain linked to memory than those which did not exercise. The authors believe the new brain cells were behind the improvement in cognitive performance.
Scientists found that running had a profound impact on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. The mice that used running wheels increased their number of brain cells and performed better at spatial learning tests than non-exercising mice, they discovered.
Spatial learning refers to the ability to navigate through the unfamiliar - such as telling the difference between two patterns, or finding your way around a new city. Spatial memory refers to how you remember the location or layout of the objects in the space around you. Spatial memories are recorded after processing key sensory information, such as what is seen and heard. Animals use spatial memory to remember where their food bowl is located. Mice, for example, learn this by scrambling through a maze to find the food at the end.
In this latest experiment, researchers learned that the running mice were better able to tell the difference between the locations of two adjacent identical stimuli. This ability was closely linked to an increase in new brain cell growth in the hippocampus. By the end of the experiment, the animals which exercised had more than twice as many new brain cells as those that did not.
The research team believes the results of their study may well extend to humans, and another researcher who studies the impact of exercise on memory said in a statement:
"Their data strongly suggest that new neurons created after exercise can play a role in improving cognitive function, which likely has direct implications for human research into the effects of exercise on neurocognition."
He said the research "made a valuable contribution in understanding the effects of exercise on brain health and function".
Research Paper Details:
Creer DJ, Romberg C, Saksida LM, et al. running enhances spatial pattern separation in mice. PNAS, Published online before print January 19, 2010.