Thursday, August 23, 2007

exercise grows brain cells (so what does that say about Ironman?)


so a research article asserts that exercise stimulates brain cell growth:

this seemed odd enough the first time i read it that i actually tried to dig up the research article mentioned in the news piece. turns out the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology charges a pretty hefty fee to download papers (15 british pounds, or about 35 dollars). ouch. i don't think i need it that bad...although, it is definitely provocative.

normally, my university status allows me access to all the on-line research journals (the scholarly peer-reviewed ones that are typically never found in a public library, but instead only in higher-level research-focused academic institutions)--at least, the ones to which the school is subscribed. but here, too, the research gods failed me: my school has no subscription to the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, or any of the services which access it. booooooooooooooo!!!

it's a pity, because i really did want to see the details of the experiments of this study, just to see how exactly the researchers came up with the conclusion that brain cell growth is stimulated by physical activity.

i mean, come on, you have to admit, for those of us who survived the excruciating agony that is the American high school system, these findings are a bit counter-intuitive. case in point: if exercise really does incite brain cell growth, then how do these researchers explain all the jocks on the varsity teams? with all the exercise Biff, Bart, and Bubba Jack-ass were getting (on football, basketball, water polo, soccer, whatever), then how in the world was it possible for them to remain at a 1st-grade IQ level?

for that matter, how does this explain the GPAs of my university's Division 1 varsity football and basketball programs? last i heard (and this is coming from inside sources), the average GPA on the rosters was around 2.1. so you mean to tell me that without all that exercise these guys would be functionally illiterate? and that the only thing keeping their grades high is a Division 1 competition schedule?

don't even mention just how brain-dead i feel after going 140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running.


like i said, i want to actually get a hold of this research article and check the details. i know that as a research journal the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology is a peer-reviewed periodical, and hence anything in it has passed a certain level of expert scrutiny. but these findings are a little...odd.

if indeed these researchers found that even moderate exercise produced brain cell growth, then there's no telling what Ironman is doing. i mean, all this suffering for Ironman must be responsible for IQ increases of a non-trivial kind. the article even mentions that the exercises involved in the experiments were swimming and running, which is 2/3 of triathlon right there. god forbid cycling doesn't have the same effect (although...some might say it has the opposite--but that's another story). in any case, we might as well push the pedal to the floor and hit the Ironman training schedule for all it's worth.

and that brain-dead feeling i have after each Ironman must just be a figment of my hallucinatory, hyper-exhausted, near-catatonic imagination.

if the link doesn't work, the text of the news piece is below:

Exercise Grows New Brain Cells
Jeanna Bryner
LiveScience Staff Writer
Thu Jun 28, 12:35 PM ET

Exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells, a new study on rats finds. The new cells could be the key to why working out relieves depression.

Previous research showed physical exercise can have antidepressant effects, but until now scientists didn’t fully understand how it worked.

Astrid Bjornebekk of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and her colleagues studied rats that had been genetically tweaked to show depressive behaviors, plus a second group of control rats. For 30 days, some of the rats had free access to running wheels and others did not.

Then, to figure out if running turned the down-and-out rats into happy campers, the scientists used a standard “swim test.” They measured the amount of time the rats spent immobile in the water and the time they spent swimming around in active mode. When depressed, rats spend most of the time not moving.

“In the depressed rats, running had an antidepressant-like effect after running for 30 days,” Bjornebekk told LiveScience. The once-slothful rodents spent much more time in active swimming compared with the non-running depressed rats.

The researchers also examined the hippocampus region of the brain, involved in learning and memory. Neurons there increased dramatically in the depressed rats after wheel-running.

Past studies have found that the human brain’s hippocampus shrinks in depressed individuals, a phenomenon thought to cause some of the mental problems often linked with depression.
“The hippocampus formation is one of the regions they have actually seen structural changes in depressed patients,” Bjornebekk said.

Running had a similar effect as common antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) on lifting depression.

The research is published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.

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