Exercise Builds Your Brain: Key Roles of Growth Factor Cascades and Inflammation by Cotman, Brechtold and Christie published in Neurosciences 30(9) is a good example of something I missed. Published in 2007, the article reviews the research on the effects of exercise on the brain and it’s pretty darn impressive. For one, the more exercise, the greater the benefit particularly with moderate exercise. I can do moderate. Benefits include “enhanced learning and memory, improved executive function, counteracts age-related and disease related mental health decline, and protects against age-related atrophy in the brain areas crucial for higher cognitive processes.” A sharper memory, better planning skills, and less risk of Alzheimer’s? I’ll take it.
How does exercise work it’s magic on the brain. Exerciser leads to an increase in a group of growth factor hormones that stimulate the formation of new brain cells. By itself, exercise results in the release of growth factors plus it leads to the production of more blood vessels in the brain. This provides the way to supply the new brain cells with the additional oxygen and nutrients needed for proper development. Exercise also improves the “immune condition of brain” by reducing inflammation a major hinderance to the release of growth factors.
But, wait. There’s more. It’s no surprise that exercise fits high blood pressure and prevents high insulin levels, both enemies to brain cells. And, for reason not yet understood, exercise is effective in preventing and/or treating depression. Wow. What a deal!
Here’s a flow chart from the article that summaries it all.
I started running to get into shape for skiing. Then I moved to Illinois and needed a Saturday morning hobby to take the place of those missing ski days. So why not run some more? It's would be good for my health, particularly if it helped me remove some of my excess body fat. I was motivated - somewhat. Losing weight takes a lot of time and a lot of running. Then my brother Bill came down with a nasty case of Giuan-Barre and I thought it might be motivating to him if I promised to run a marathon with him once he beat GB. Well, the jerk made a full recovery and I was committed to run a marathon “with” him. It turned out I ran with Tom (thank goodness for a brother who appreciates the challenge of not just running long distances but running them in a longer period of time i.e. slowly.) Despite being smoked by Bill and others in that first marathon, I was hooked. I ran my next marathon 3 months later and just finished number 25 in December. But, it didn't take long to realize that rather than running for health reasons I was running more for the emotional boost, the stress busting, the satisfaction, etc. I was running more for psychological reasons than physiological ones. So now I can add better brain health to the list. And, since I’m not as smart as my dad or son, I’ll take whatever brain power I can get. It would probably help if I would do Sudoku puzzles as I ran but I’m not smart enough to do them at all. After reading this article, I'm holding out hope that I will be smart enough after my next marathon.