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The Mind-Altering Benefits of Exercise

I told you about what I initially thought to be new news about exercise making you smarter last fall. Apparently, the neurological benefits of exercise have been on the scientific radar for the past half-century, according to this excellent piece in Science News (free text link below).

Observational reports started cropping up in the early 50s from doctors who witnessed the various neurological benefits -- easing pain, maintaining memory and treating depression -- in their practices.

However, researchers have only begun to understand why exercise works on the mind over the past decade. The primary culprit: Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that works like "brain fertilizer," says one scientist, triggering other health-promoting neural chemicals as well as offering benefits of its own.

Scientists have observed how BDNF works in various animal studies comparing mice caged with running wheels versus those that weren't. In fact, a group of rats housed with wheels in a 2004 study ran an amazing 48 kilometers a day! After dissecting their brains, researchers found the exercising rats had more new neurons and stronger connections, meaning a higher capacity for learning.

The key concept that will help you understand the true value of exercise: Think of it like a drug that needs to be prescribed precisely to achieve the maximum benefit.

Science News, Vol. 169, No. 8, February 25, 2006: 122 Free Full Text Article

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