Keep On Running

Kenichi Udagawa - News Reporter 29 January 2010

Students who are starting to fret as exam term nears might want to take heed of new research by neuroscientists at Cambridge which strengthens the long-believed link between jogging and good memory.

The research shows that mice who are allowed running time on an exercise wheel have, by the end of the experiment, doubled the number of new brain cells growing in the hippocampus, a part of the brain linked to memory. The new brain cells are thought to explain the improved performance of these mice in a memory test administered after the exercise.

In fact, the results, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that there was “a significant correlation between newly born cell number and task performance in individual mice”.

The finding that exercise improves brain power is not in itself new, but this research, conducted by Cambridge and the National Institute on Ageing in America, helps understand the reason behind this phenomenon.

The study involved training mice to touch a square shape on a screen to release a sugar pellet. They were then split into two groups, an experimental group and a control group. The control group was not allowed to exercise, whilst the experimental group was allowed to access to an exercise wheel, and ran an average of over 20km a day. The mice were then trained to remember which shape gave them the pellet when touched and were tested to see if they could remember after the shapes had been moved around on the screen. The experimental group was found to perform better than the control group when the shapes were close together on the screen, but not when they were far apart.

Timothy Bussey, a senior author of the report, said that this demonstrated an increased ability to keep similar memories distinct. The improved memory performance for close together squares suggests that running helps distinguish which of two identical items is the right one. He suggested that “the human equivalent might be remembering which car parking space you have used on two different days in the previous week”.

Even when the researchers changed the shape that released the sugar pellet, the mice who had been running prior to the task were faster at realising the change. The researchers are not sure what causes the increased number of brain cells or how the effect might apply to humans, but think the connection may remain.

Until this is proved, students can only hope that adding a run into their daily routine will help jog their memories.

Kenichi Udagawa – News Reporter