Exercise makes you smarter

The New York Times reported that over a decade ago:

Dr. Fred Gage and his colleagues at the Laboratory of Genetics at the Salk Institute in San Diego elegantly proved that human and animal brains produce new brain cells (a process called neurogenesis) and that exercise increases neurogenesis. The brains of mice and rats that were allowed to run on wheels pulsed with vigorous, newly born neurons, and those animals then breezed through mazes and other tests of rodent I.Q., showing that neurogenesis improves thinking.

Those researchers are now beginning to learn how exercise makes us smarter:

The more active BMP [bone-morphogenetic protein] and its various signals are in your brain, the more inactive your stem cells become and the less neurogenesis you undergo. Your brain grows slower, less nimble, older.

But exercise countermands some of the numbing effects of BMP, Dr. Kessler says. In work at his lab, mice given access to running wheels had about 50 percent less BMP-related brain activity within a week. They also showed a notable increase in Noggin, a beautifully named brain protein that acts as a BMP antagonist. The more Noggin in your brain, the less BMP activity exists and the more stem cell divisions and neurogenesis you experience. Mice at Northwestern whose brains were infused directly with large doses of Noggin became, Dr. Kessler says, “little mouse geniuses, if there is such a thing.” They aced the mazes and other tests.

Whether exercise directly reduces BMP activity or increases production of Noggin isn’t yet known and may not matter. The results speak for themselves. “If ever exercise enthusiasts wanted a rationale for what they’re doing, this should be it,” Dr. Kessler says. Exercise, he says, through a complex interplay with Noggin and BMP, helps to ensure that neuronal stem cells stay lively and new brain cells are born.

Posted by James on Thursday, July 29, 2010