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Thursday, 14 July 2016 13:22

Exercise, the Brain and Memory

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It's a no brainer that exercise is good for you in general, but how it directly affects the brain is what scientists are still figuring out. 
Now we are finally getting some new insights in this area. Researchers attribute the brain and exercise to a specific enzyme produced by muscles. They have identified this substance in the muscles that helps explain the connection between a fit body and a good memory.
According to the journal Cell Metabolism, when a person exercises, the muscles release a protein that seems to generate new cells and connections in a part of the brain that is crucial to memory.
This finding "provides another piece to the puzzle," says Henriette van Praag author of the study and an investigator in brain science at the National Institute on Aging. Previous research, she says, had revealed factors in the brain itself that responded to exercise. They had been searching for this link between fitness and memory.
So then they started looking for substances produced by muscle cells in response to exercise. What they found was cathepsin B, a protein best known for its relationship with cell death and disease.
The team experimented first with mice. What they found is that blood levels of cathepsin B rose when the mice that spent a lot of time on their exercise wheels. As levels of the protein rose, the mice performed better on a memory test in which they had to swim to a platform hidden just beneath the surface of a small pool.
The team also found evidence that, in mice, cathepsin B was causing the growth of new cells and connections in the hippocampus, an area of the brain crucial to memory.
Then they tested monkeys. They found that exercise raised circulating levels of cathepsin in the blood with them as well.
Finally they tested 43 people who were not regularly exercising, students who were basically couch potatoes. They took half the students and they became fit in four months by doing a challenging treadmill work out several times a week. The results were the same just like mice, the students who exercised saw their cathepsin B levels rise as their fitness improved. Their memories also improved. Their test was to reproduce a geometric pattern they'd been shown several minutes earlier.
The big link was between memory improvement and the higher cathepsin levels. Those who had developed more memory also had the largest increase in cathepsin. Researcher believe that cathepsin is probably just one of several factors linking exercise and brain function. While this isn't the only factor involved in how exercise improves memory, it’s still significant.
"I don't think we have fully explained how exercise improves memory," van Pragg says, "but I think we've made an important step forward."
But just be aware, there's also a flip side to cathepsin. It's produced by tumor cells and is related to brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's. So it’s not a good idea to artificially raise levels. 
In the meantime just keep exercising regularly and you can keep your memory sharp! And of course keep burning some calories.
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