BRAIN GAIN: Weight training creates new neurons
August 06, 2019 • 1 min read
-- Rat studies show how gym bunnies could be lifting their way to bigger brains.
Scientists tied progressively weightier bags of pellets to rats, rewarding them with fruit loops each time they climbed a one-metre ladder. The rats were also injected with a substance known to induce a rodent form of mild cognitive impairment, or early dementia. All that ladder climbing produced ripped-looking rats.
Here’s where it gets interesting. As the programme progressed the rats were let loose in a maize to test their capacity for memory and learning. Compared to a control group of untrained rats with normal cognitive function, the weight trained rats faltered. But not for long. With a little practice, and despite their induced cognitive impairment, the trained rats caught up to and in some cases surpassed the speed and accuracy of the control group rats.
What’s going on?
To find out, scientists extracted a sliver of brain tissue from the weight trained rats (let’s not think about that bit). Scientist found signs of inflammation – linked to cognitive decline. Remarkably, or not, they also discovered enzymes and genetic markers known to kick-start the creation and survival of new neurons.
In effect, the brains of the weight-trained rats were remaking themselves to resemble the brains of the rats who dodged the brain bending injection.
Of course, humans aren’t rats – but what the hell. Weight training is good for so many other things. And who’s to say gym bunnies aren’t so different to rats.
Pro tip: Lift heavy weights