Studies have shown that exercise can boost your brain, but new research suggests something altogether different: that being active may be linked to brain size, according to a new study that finds mice bred for athleticism have larger midbrains.
Researchers from the University of California, Riverside, found that the volume of the midbrain — a small region of the brain that relays information for the visual, auditory, and motor systems — in mice bred for athleticism was nearly 13 percent larger than the midbrain volume in control mice.
"To our knowledge, this is the first example in which selection for a particular mammalian behavior — high voluntary wheel running in house mice in our set of experiments -- has been shown to result in a change in size of a specific brain region," says researcher Theodore Garland.
In Garland's lab, selection for high voluntary wheel running in lab house mice has been ongoing for nearly 20 years or more than 65 generations of mice.
Study results appeared online last week in The Journal of Experimental Biology.
"It is possible that individual differences in the propensity or ability for exercise in humans are associated with individual differences in the size of the midbrain, but no one has studied that," Garland says.
He adds that some genetically based differences in midbrain size could influence how much a person is likely to exercise as an adult.