Study Suggests Endurance Running May Boost Your Brain

iStock / iStock

Exercise isn't just good for your body: a new study supports the idea that getting a workout can be good for your brain as well. But when it comes to increasing your brain cell growth, not all forms of exercise are created equal. If you're looking to give your brain a boost, put down the weights and take a jog around the block instead. 

For their study recently published in the Journal of Physiology [PDF], scientists used rat subjects to compare how different exercise methods can impact brain growth. The researchers from the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland injected adult male rats with a substance that highlights new brain cells, then subjected three groups to different exercise routines (plus one sedentary group used as the control). 

The weight-lifting rats, which exercised by climbing a ladder with weights attached to their tails, showed no signs of brain cell growth. The rats in the high-intensity training group, which involved sprinting on treadmills in brief intervals, showed slightly more brain growth than the weight-lifters, but neither group compared to the endurance runners. After seven weeks of jogging on a wheel for 30 minutes three times a week, the tissue in the rat's hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with learning and memory, displayed significant neuron growth. And not only that: The number of new brain cells the rats grew was in direct correlation with the distances they covered. 

Scientists have known for a while that exercise can promote neurogenesis by stimulating the production of specific proteins in the brain. In a study from 2013, researchers suggested that it may be possible to capture these same brain cell boosting benefits in pill form. That's potentially good news for the less athletically inclined among us. This newest study also showed that some rats are more susceptible to the benefits of running than others, such as those which were bred for fitness or those which exercised voluntarily. 

[h/t The New York Times]