Exercise and the Brain: Something to Chew On

(From the July 2009 “The Scope” By: Steven T. Tanaka, DC)

van Praag H. Exercise and the Brain: Something to Chew On. Trends in Neuroscience May 2009. 32 (5):283-290.

ABSTRACT: Evidence is accumulating that exercise has profound benefits for brain function. Physical activity improves learning and memory in humans and animals. Moreover, an active lifestyle might prevent or delay loss of cognitive function with aging or neurodegenerative disease. Recent research indicates that the effects of exercise on the brain can be enhanced by concurrent consumption of natural products such as omega fatty acids or plant polyphenols. The potential synergy between diet and exercise could involve common cellular pathways important for neurogenesis, cell survival, synaptic plasticity and vascular function. Optimal maintenance of brain health might depend on exercise and intake of natural products.

COMMENTS: Considerable current research has been finding that exercise not only benefits the cardiovascular system, but also, it has other important benefits. Its benefits range from improving genetic health, effect as an antidepressant to improved cognition and memory. Like everything else, it is one factor in a complete package. This article discusses the roles that exercise and natural products play in brain function.

Studies have found that learning and intelligence scores are better in schoolaged children who engage in regular physical activity. Aerobic activity in childhood may improve brain resilience in the later years. Even in the elderly, physical activity improves cognitive functions. The latter has been confirmed by changes positive noted on EEC, event related potential, and functional MRI.

Diet is an important factor in brain function, and research is showing the importance of good diet and lower caloric intake. Omega-3 fatty acid is in all of the news today and for good reason. Consumption of omega-3, especially when combined with exercise, helps improve spatial learning, synaptic plasticity, and hippocampal brain derived neurotropic factor protein levels. Plant polyphenols are a source for flavanols which have neuroprotective, antioxidant, and antiapoptotic properties. Flavanols may improve synaptic plasticity and learning.

The bottom line is that exercise and optimal nutrition work synergistically to improve brain function. The article describes the research that has been finding this connection.