May The [Exercise] Force Be With You

How can you be the Jedi master of exercise?  A recent New York Times article about how exercise can strengthen the brain provides insight.

What’s the Article About?

Before discussing the study, let’s talk about mitochondria.  As discussed in a previous entry about why to exercise, mitochondria is a part of the cell that creates energy.  By meeting exercise recommendations, it is possible to increase the both the number and durability of mitochondria inside muscle cells.  The experiments show that those able to produce more mitochondria have also decreased the risk for developing chronic diseases and increased the potential for a longer life.

The NY Times article discusses a recent experiment done on mice, which showed how exercise not only stimulates the mitochondria in muscle cells but also in brain cells.  The scientists used two groups of mice that inhabited the same quarters; the only difference was that one group was taken to exercise on a mouse-treadmill for eight weeks while the other group remained sedentary.

After eight weeks, each group had a treadmill test whereby each mouse would run till exhaustion.  As the researchers hypothesized, the mice who exercised had more endurance–but were more surprised to discover that the tissue samples in the exercising animals’ brain cells had an upsurge in mitochondria.

The Results

The study’s results have shown that mitochondria can be born in other cells other than muscle cells–in only two weeks with an exercise stimulus, the mice who exercised had increased the number and resilience of their mitochondrial brain cells.  The evidence from this study suggests that, just as having more mitochondria in muscle cells delays fatigue, having more inside of the brain might do the same.

What does this mean besides having a sharper mind?  A co-author in the study suggests that mitochondrial deficits in the brain might lead to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

What to Take Away?

Although the study has been done on mice, it is interesting that exercise may re-energize brain cells to the point of making them less resistant to stress and fatigue.

The author suggests that a 30-minute jog is the human equivalent of what the mice completed.  Some comments below the article mentioned that it would have been interesting to see if resistance training or eye-hand sports, like kick-boxing, could have produced similar results, but, “…unfortunately, this would be nearly impossible to test as kickboxing mice might be difficult to come by,” states one funny commenter.

The goal of exercise is to make the body stronger and more resilient.  I suppose if your biceps aren’t as much of a concern for you, at least your brain may collect some of exercise’s benefits.

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