Previous research tells us that brain health and exercise go hand in hand, but not all types of exercise are necessarily created equal when it comes to boosting brain health: a study has found that adult lab animals that engaged in sustained running on a treadmill had higher numbers of new neurons in the brain’s hippocampus—a brain region which, among other things, is believed to be important for memory and spatial navigation. The study was published in the Journal of Physiology and included three types of rats: ordinary lab rats, rats that were bred to have a high response to aerobic exercise, and rats that were bred to have a low response to aerobic exercise. Researchers assigned rats of each type to perform the following activities: sustained running on a treadmill, high-intensity treadmill running in intervals, weight training (such as running up a ladder wearing weights), or to remain sedentary. After the six- to eight-week training period, researchers found that:
The high-response rats that engaged in sustained treadmill running had two to three times the amount of new hippocampal neurons compared with the sedentary rats.
Concentrations of new hippocampal neurons were higher in both the low-response and high-response rats that engaged in sustained treadmill running, compared to the rats that engaged in weight training.
Rats performing high-intensity interval treadmill running had only a slight increase in new hippocampal neurons compared with the sedentary rats, and this difference was not found to be statistically significant.
Of course, more research is needed to understand if exercise affects human brains in the same way. However, that doesn’t mean you should leave the running to the rats! Regular aerobic exercise provides a wealth of other known health benefits, such as boosting heart health and increasing the odds of healthy aging. Generally, adults need a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise, each week to begin enjoying the health benefits of physical activity.
Source: Journal of Physiology