Exercise and the Brain

030So as my quest towards running a marathon comes to an end, I find myself fast losing the motivation that I had when I started the seemingly reasonable training plan (Hal Higdon’s Novice 1, in case you’re wondering…).  As you may or may not recall, I do plan on “jogging” a marathon this Sunday at Walt Disney World, aka the Walt Disney World marathon.  And while I will happily cross this event off my bucket list of things to do, my whole social circle has had to pay the price of my endeavor.  What with the constant time away from home, the constant whining about running (jogging), the constant massaging of lower limbs…you get the idea.

However, science always seems to give me hope as I begin to falter.  A recent New York Times blog post discusses recent research linking physical activity with increased tissue growth, even in the brain.  The post starts with the research of Drs. DE Lieberman and DM Bramble about how early humans survived as endurance athletes.  The article then goes on to discuss a newly published article from Drs. Raichlen and Polk in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences linking brain development with physical activity.  Here are the citations for both articles.

  • New York Times Well Blog post
    Reynolds, G; Exercise and the Ever-Smarter Human Brain.  The New York Times Well Blog. December 26, 2012. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/exercise-and-the-ever-smarter-human-brain/
  • Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences citation
    Raichlen DA, Polk JD. Linking brains and brawn: exercise and the evolution of human neurobiology. Proc Biol Sci. 2013 Jan 7; 280(1750).  PMID 23173208
    Abstract: The hunting and gathering lifestyle adopted by human ancestors around 2 Ma required a large increase in aerobic activity. High levels of physical activity altered the shape of the human body, enabling access to new food resources (e.g. animal protein) in a changing environment. Recent experimental work provides strong evidence that both acute bouts of exercise and long-term exercise training increase the size of brain components and improve cognitive performance in humans and other taxa. However, to date, researchers have not explored the possibility that the increases in aerobic capacity and physical activity that occurred during human evolution directly influenced the human brain. Here, we hypothesize that proximate mechanisms linking physical activity and neurobiology in living species may help to explain changes in brain size and cognitive function during human evolution. We review evidence that selection acting on endurance increased baseline neurotrophin and growth factor signalling (compounds responsible for both brain growth and for metabolic regulation during exercise) in some mammals, which in turn led to increased overall brain growth and development. This hypothesis suggests that a significant portion of human neurobiology evolved due to selection acting on features unrelated to cognitive performance.
    Read the full article here.

So I guess I’m hoping that running this insanely long distance is somehow beneficial for my brain rather than making me seem like I’m crazy.  Wish me luck!

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