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This Exercise Routine Will Make You Smarter, Neuroscience Says

Jul 15, 2016 03:21 AM EDT

A recent study revealed a kind of exercise routine that can help make people smarter and happier.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.) found that distance running can improve a person's cognitive health.

In the study, participants engaged in a one-hour running exercise for three to four days a week over the four-month study period. The participants were given memory and thinking tests throughout the study. The researchers found that the runners' test results improved, as they got more physically fit.

The study was also conducted on mice and monkeys and found that running had improved their leaning and memory skills.

"These experiments strongly suggest that while mental stimulation is important for brain health, physical stimulation is even more potent," Gretchen Reynolds, a science fitness writer, wrote in the New York Times.

According to Reynolds, the N.I.H. researchers suspected that some of the substances or proteins produced by contracting muscles could have migrated to the brain and contributed to brain health.

The researchers zeroed in on an enzyme called Cathepsin B, the protein produced by the muscles as a recovery mechanism, which runners' muscles produce in great numbers.

After weeks of running exercises, scientists found that the concentrations of cathepsin B in human and animal subjects steadily rose. The researchers also discovered that the more cathepsin B enzyme the human subjects and animal subjects produce, the better they performed on various thinking and memory tests.

To underscore the importance of the enzyme, the researchers also bred mice that do not have the ability to create cathepsin B even after exercise, and put them in the same running routine as the normal mice. After running, the normal mice learned faster and improved their memory retention. But the mice that did not produce cathepsin B did not show any improvement in learning and memory skills.

"The lesson of these experiments is that our brains appear to function better when they are awash in cathepsin B and we make more cathepsin B when we exercise," Henriette van Praag, investigator at the N.I.H. who led the study, said in a statement.

According to the researchers, increases in cathepsin B explain only a part of the benefits of exercise to brain health. More research will be conducted on other mechanisms for future studies, the researchers said.

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