Want to Increase Your Smarts? Lace Up Your Running Shoes

Running shoes, and moving, may help improve your brain.

Who doesn’t want to improve their brain? What if we told you that all you had to do to make your gray matter perform better was put on running shoes, open your front door and get moving? Well, increasing your smarts may actually be that simple.

The brain-running connection

Scientists made the connection between improved brain power and running by examining humans, mice, and monkeys.

When animals move, they create neurons in their brains. This process, neurogenesis, causes new cells to cluster in the areas of the brain that aid critical thinking and recollection.

And other studies have discovered that animals who “run” on the regular experience the most neurogenesis, too. “Other experiments have found that animals living in cages enlivened with colored toys, flavored varieties of water and other enrichments wind up showing greater neurogenesis than animals in drab, standard cages,” The New York Times reports.

“But animals given access to running wheels, even if they don’t also have all of the toys and other party-cage extras, develop the most new brain cells of all.”

Where does it start?

National Institutes of Health researchers are beginning to think that changes happen in an exercising person’s brain and in their body’s other muscles, too—it’s these muscles that produce the substances and proteins that flow through the bloodstream to the brain.

N.I.H. researchers got to work and about a month ago to help weed out which substances actually help the brain. The findings are published in the journal Cell Metabolism. The researchers “first isolated muscle cells from mice in petri dishes and doused them with a peptide that affects cell metabolism in ways that mimic aerobic exercise,” the Times reports.

“Then, using a technique called mass spectrometry, the scientists analyzed the many chemicals that the muscle cells released after their pseudo-workouts, focusing on those few that can cross the blood-brain barrier.”

It’s all about the protein

One protein, cathepsin B, stood out. This protein helps muscles recover by clearing cellular debris. After further research, the scientists found that the protein did, in fact, aid brain cells.

“The lesson of these experiments is that our brains appear to function better when they are awash in cathepsin B and we make more cathepsin B when we exercise,” Henriette van Praag, an investigator at the National Institute on Aging at the N.I.H. who oversaw this study, says.

More research is needed to figure out this process. However, this work and other recent research is a great start.

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Image of woman running via Shutterstock