Running Helps The Brain Counteract Negative Effect of Stress, Study Finds

Source: Brigham Young University

Summary: A new study finds that running mitigates the negative impacts chronic stress has on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

Inside the hippocampus, memory formation and recall occur optimally when the synapses or connections between neurons are strengthened over time. That process of synaptic strengthening is called long-term potentiation (LTP). Chronic or prolonged stress weakens the synapses, which decreases LTP and ultimately impacts memory. Most people agree that getting a little exercise helps when dealing with stress. Exercise is a simple and cost-effective way to eliminate the negative impacts on the memory of chronic stress. Researchers from Brigham Young University found that running mitigates the negative impacts chronic stress has on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. They also found that when exercise co-occurs with stress, LTP levels are not decreased, but remain normal. The study findings were published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

Running counteracts Chronic Stress

Credit: Brigham Young University

The research team carried out experiments with mice. One group of mice used running wheels over a 4-week period (averaging 5 km run per day) while another set of mice was left sedentary. Half of each group was then exposed to stress-inducing situations, such as walking on an elevated platform or swimming in cold water. One hour after stress induction researchers carried out electrophysiology experiments on the animals’ brains to measure the LTP. Stressed mice who had exercised had significantly greater LTP than the stressed mice who did not run. Exercising mice made significantly fewer memory errors in the maze than the sedentary mice. The findings reveal exercise is a viable method to protect learning and memory mechanisms from the negative cognitive impacts of chronic stress on the brain.

Assoc. Prof. Jeff Edwards said, “The ideal situation for improving learning and memory would be to experience no stress and to exercise”,  “Of course, we can’t always control stress in our lives, but we can control how much we exercise. It’s empowering to know that we can combat the negative impacts of stress on our brains just by getting out and running.”

More Information: Roxanne M. Miller et al, Running exercise mitigates the negative consequences of chronic stress on dorsal hippocampal long-term potentiation in male mice, Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.nlm.2018.01.008

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