We don’t need to tell you that exercise (no matter the duration or intensity) comes with a plethora of health benefits—but as this latest study also suggests, it can, in fact, work to improve brain function.
As covered on Science Daily, Neuroscientists at OHSU in Portland, Oregon, have discovered that a short burst of exercise activates the MTSS1L gene, a gene that is said to have been largely ignored in prior studies on the brain. This gene encodes for a protein that increases connections between neurons in the hippocampus—the region of the brain associated with learning and memory.
The study, published in the online journal eLife, involved placing sedentary mice on running wheels where they were monitored over the course of two hours. What was found was that these short/sharp bursts of activity had the ability to activate the gene in question in mice.
But what does this mean exactly and how can we interpret these findings? It suggests that just a small amount of exercise (ie. 4,000 steps) is enough to improve brain function in the short-term.
Above all, this research provides the basis for exploring the underlying mechanisms on how exercise enhances learning and memory through a gene that hasn’t really been a point of interest up until this point of time.
It should be noted that this study was conducted on animals, so further testing and trials on humans need to be undertaken in this area. It is stated that in the next stage of research, the plan is to pair acute bouts of exercise with learning tasks to better understand its impact—but in the meantime, it might be worth going for a quick run or doing a 20 minute HIIT circuit before a big study session, exam or presentation. It couldn’t hurt, right?