New Study Shows How Exercise Impacts the Brain

cycling-655565_640A new imaging study from the UC Davis Health System offers new insight on brain metabolism,the impacts of exercise on the brain and how exercise can play a significant role in depression therapy.

It’s been said for years that exercise was “good for you” but there is far more to it than it just being “good” and the new study shows why. It turns out people who exercise not only have better physical fitness but also better mental fitness too.

In the new imaging study, the researchers discovered that intense exercise increases levels of two common neurotransmitters which drive communications between the brain cells that regulate physical and emotional health. The study was led by Richard Maddock, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UC Davis Health System. In the study Professor Maddock and team found two common neurotransmitters, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), increased following intense exercise. Disorders such as depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders show patients having distinct deficiencies in these two neurotransmitters.

“Major depressive disorder is often characterized by depleted glutamate and GABA, which return to normal when mental health is restored,” Maddock stated. “Our study shows that exercise activates the metabolic pathway that replenishes these neurotransmitters.”

The study researchers observed 38 healthy volunteers, separated into two groups. One group of participants exercised on a stationary bicycle for periods of 8 to 20 minutes at a time, with their heart rate reaching around 85 percent of their predicted maximum heart rate and one group did not. To measure the neurotransmitters activity in the volunteers, researchers conducted a series of imaging studies on volunteers who exercised and the volunteers who did no exercise.

The results showed significant increases of neurotransmitters in the visual cortex, which processes visual information, and in the anterior cingulate cortex, which helps regulate heart rate, some cognitive functions and emotion.

Prior to the study, surprisingly little knowledge existed about what the brain does with fuel (fuel in the form of glucose and other carbohydrates) during exercise.

“From a metabolic standpoint, vigorous exercise is the most demanding activity the brain encounters, much more intense than calculus or chess, but nobody knows what happens with all that energy,” Maddock said. “Apparently, one of the things it’s doing is making more neurotransmitters.”

The researchers findings have been published in the The Journal of Neuroscience.

Next the researchers want to purse further research into the brain and hope to learn more about the specific types of exercise that provide the most benefit. The researchers are hopeful that exercise can someday be used as an alternative therapy for treating depression.

To read the full report see it here.

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