Exercise has long been known to boost memory and mental skills. Now researchers at Boston University School of Medicine think they have identified how and why.
In a new study published online in the journal Behavioral Brain Research, the BU scientists report that certain hormones, which are increased during exercise, may help improve memory.
Hormones called growth factors — known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) — are the likely culprits behind the mental health benefits of exercise. They noted the hippocampus, a region of the brain crucial for learning and memory, is affected by these hormones.
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All three have been shown help regulate communication between existing brain cells and stimulate the growth and maturation of new hippocampal neurons and blood vessels.
For the study, the researchers measured blood hormone levels, recognition memory, and aerobic fitness in a group of healthy young adults. The results showed the participants' blood hormone levels rose with aerobic fitness, and boosted their ability to recall and remember.
"We will be continuing this line of research by testing if memory improves following an exercise training program in both young and geriatric adults, and by adding brain imaging techniques," explained Karin Schon, assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology at BUSM, who served as the study's principal investigator.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.
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