by Ben Daviss
Conventional wisdom says that a little exercise at a time isn’t as good as long bouts on the treadmill or in the weight room. But your brain may disagree.
Scientists at Oregon Health and Science University worked with mice to try to figure out if exercise affected the brain directly or only as a side effect of body-wide boosts – a stronger heartbeat and heavier breathing that brings more oxygen to the blood, for example.
The researchers put the mice on a running wheel for short stints over a period of time, which amounted to about as much of a workout as “a weekly pick-up game of basketball”, and found that the briefer exercise bursts grew more synapses – connections among brain cells – in the mice’s hippocampus, the part of the brain that manages memory, learning, and emotions.
The reason cited is a previously ignored gene called Mtss1L which is activated by the exercise bursts and sparks brain cells’ growth of little bumps that turn into dendrites, the tendrils that link to other brain cells.
The good news: humans have the same gene.