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Running Improves Memory, Grows Brain Cells

Aerobic Exercise Produces the Cathepsin B Protein

© 2016 by all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile.

A hamster running in a wheel; photo courtesy Doenertier82

As runners, we might not consider ourselves to be superior to sedentary folks but in all fairness we might suspect it. As it turns out, running and other aerobic exercise does elevate us above the masses, at least with respect to mental functionality. Let’ see how that works.

Scientists now believe that running may help boost memory. This is because the activity triggers a protein which boosts brain cell growth. Researchers at the National Institute on Ageing have found that when our muscles exercise they produce a protein called cathepsin B. This makes its way to the brain and triggers neuron growth.

Dr. Henriette van Praag, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging, puts it this way, “Overall, the message is that a consistently healthy lifestyle pays off.” The key word here is consistently.

Investigating the Cathepsin B Protein

She explains the research this way. “We did a screen for proteins that could be secreted by muscle tissue and transported to the brain, and among the most interesting candidates was cathepsin B.
Moreover, in humans who exercise consistently for four months, better performance on complex recall tasks, such as drawing from memory, is correlated with increased cathepsin B levels.”

Of Mice and Men

Praag’s team initially noticed the protein when they were studying mice which exercised regularly on wheels. The protein level rose in the blood and muscle tissue the more the mice ran.

They next noticed that when cathepsin B was applied to brain cells in their lab it initiated the production of molecules related to neurogenesis, which is the growth of neurons.

They also determined that the mice who were genetically modified so that they no longer produced the protein performed less well in memory tests.

Dr. van Praag concluded, “We also have evidence from our study that cathepsin B is upregulated in blood by exercise for three species—mice, Rhesus monkeys, and humans.”

How can we as runners tap into these benefits? Dr van Praag tells us, “People often ask us, how long do you have to exercise, how many hours? The study supports that the more substantial changes occur with the maintenance of a long-term exercise regimen.”

Do you have any thought on this that you would like to share? Please post them in the comment section below. Thanks!

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