On July 18th, 2016 we learned about

Active muscles linked to building stronger memories

If you really want to remember something, you need to get moving. Multiple studies have found that muscle activity can make an impact on how well your brain can hold onto details, both in the short- and long-term. The exact mechanisms that connect your calorie burning to your brain aren’t entirely pinned down, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that people should consider following up their study sessions at the library with a trip to the gym.

Running boosts recollection

Most of your memory processing takes place in the hippocampus, a small structure deep in the center of your brain. This tissue obviously isn’t breaking a sweat itself when you’re going for a jog, but a potential connection to physical activity lies in a protein called cathepsin B. Mouse and monkey studies have found that more physically active animals’ muscles have higher amounts of cathepsin B in their bloodstream, and that that cathepsin B promotes growth of new neurons and synapses in the hippocampus. The active mice then performed better on a memory test, remembering the location of a hidden platform in a shallow pool of water better than their more sedentary peers.

While mice and monkeys are routinely used as model organisms for human brains, a follow-up looked directly at exercise and memory in a group of generally inactive people. Half the group was put on a treadmill routine for four months while having their memories compared to the control group who didn’t start jogging regularly. The runners not only improved at the visual memory test they were given, but also had higher levels of cathepsin B in their blood. This might seem like boosting our cathepsin B levels would be a very tidy way to improve everyone’s memory, but there’s a twist to this particular protein’s relationship with the brain. Tumor cells and brain plaques tied to Alzheimer’s are also associated with elevated levels of the of cathepsin B, suggesting that we shouldn’t go past the doses our muscles would provide us with.

Almost immediate improvements

If you’re trying to learn something new, it turns out that you might not need four months of training before your brain starts benefiting from exercise. A separate study put had people examine a set of objects in an image, followed by 35 minutes on a stationary bike or resting while watching a documentary. Bikers either started exercising immediately, or waited four hours after their study-session to work out. Everyone was then tested on the initial images two days later, with the delayed bikers coming out on top. While a specific protein like cathepsin B wasn’t measured as a possible catalyst to these gains, more activity was found the delayed-bikers’ hippocampi when they remembered information correctly, indicating stronger memory formation similar to the other study.

Source: A Protein That Moves From Muscle To Brain May Tie Exercise To Memory by Jon Hamilton, NPR Shots

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