We all need physical activity to keep our brains and bodies healthy. With little ones in the house you know even more so that kids need to expend some of that boundless energy in addition to setting a healthy lifelong habit of being active. A new study found that exercise may do more than just get your blood flowing.
Associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain function at Dartmouth David Bucci, along with his research team, have been collecting data over the years that implies that neurobiological changes occur during exercise and very brain specific mechanisms are at work.
Bucci initially began to take a look at the link between exercise and memory with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as a means to find other methods of treatment besides drug therapy. With anecdotal evidence from observing ADHD children at a Vermont summer camp, Bucci noticed that the children who were physically active responded better to behavioral therapy. Although this was not an official study, it fueled Bucci’s current research.
Through research on laboratory rats, those that exhibited symptoms of ADHD showed that exercise was able to reduce some of the symptoms; with female rats responding better than males- similar to results found in children. Researchers further investigated a phenomenon called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), where exercise seems to improve learning and memory and is also involved in the growth of the developing brain.
The degree of BDNF was positively correlated with improved memory. Also, whether or not an individual could reap the benefits of exercise on learning and memory was dependent upon a person’s genotype for BDNF. Published in the online journal version of Neuroscience, Bucci takes these latest findings in rats and applies them to humans as part of an ongoing work in progress. Key findings so far include:
- A gene has been identified that appears to mediate the degree to which exercise has an effect on an individual and has implications for the potential use of exercise to treat mental illnesses.
- The effects of exercise are different on memory as well as on the brain, depending on whether the exerciser is an adult or child.
While there is more work to be done, this research shows that exercise can do more for the brain than we previously knew and also holds promise for exercise as an alternative treatment.