Running helps the brain counteract negative effect of stress, study finds

February 14, 2018 by Todd Hollingshead, Brigham Young University
Credit: Brigham Young University

Most people agree that getting a little exercise helps when dealing with stress. A new BYU study discovers exercise—particularly running—while under stress also helps protect your memory.

The study, newly published in the journal of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, finds that running mitigates the negative impacts chronic has on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

"Exercise is a simple and cost-effective way to eliminate the negative impacts on memory of chronic stress," said study lead author Jeff Edwards, associate professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU.

Inside the hippocampus, memory formation and recall occur optimally when the synapses or connections between neurons are strengthened over time. That process of synaptic strengthening is called long-term potentiation (LTP). Chronic or prolonged stress weakens the synapses, which decreases LTP and ultimately impacts memory. Edwards' study found that when exercise co-occurs with stress, LTP levels are not decreased, but remain normal.

To learn this, Edwards carried out experiments with mice. One group of mice used running wheels over a 4-week period (averaging 5 km ran per day) while another set of mice was left sedentary. Half of each group was then exposed to stress-inducing situations, such as walking on an elevated platform or swimming in cold water. One hour after stress induction researchers carried out electrophysiology experiments on the animals' brains to measure the LTP.

Stressed mice who had exercised had significantly greater LTP than the stressed mice who did not run. Edwards and his colleagues also found that stressed mice who exercised performed just as well as non-stressed mice who exercised on a maze-running experiment testing their memory. Additionally, Edwards found exercising mice made significantly fewer memory errors in the maze than the sedentary .

The findings reveal exercise is a viable method to protect learning and memory mechanisms from the negative cognitive impacts of on the .

"The ideal situation for improving learning and would be to experience no stress and to exercise," Edwards said. "Of course, we can't always control stress in our lives, but we can control how much we . It's empowering to know that we can combat the negative impacts of stress on our brains just by getting out and running."

Explore further: Protein is potential target for memory drugs

More information: Roxanne M. Miller et al, Running exercise mitigates the negative consequences of chronic stress on dorsal hippocampal long-term potentiation in male mice, Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.nlm.2018.01.008

Related Stories

Protein is potential target for memory drugs

January 31, 2018
Researchers at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) have determined that the presence of a particular protein in the brain may suppress the brain's ability to learn, making it a potential precursor to memory loss in ...

RNG105/Caprin1 is essential for long-term memory formation

November 21, 2017
The research group of Associate Professor Nobuyuki Shiina of the National Institute for Basic Biology have revealed that the function of RNG105 (aka Caprin1) is essential for the formation of long-term memory.

Study in mice places blame on immune system

March 1, 2016
Sustained stress erodes memory, and the immune system plays a key role in the cognitive impairment, according to a new study from researchers at The Ohio State University.

Early supplementation may help offset early-life stress on the adult brain

October 26, 2016
Early-life stress has been shown to impair learning and memory in later life, but new research, published online in The FASEB Journal, suggests that improved nutrition may help offset the negative effects of this stress. ...

Harmful effects of stress on the brain and promising approaches for relief

November 13, 2017
Stress can have numerous harmful effects on the mind and body, both immediately and over long periods of time. New research reveals mechanisms by which stress exacts its toll throughout the body, from the brain to the male ...

Mice offer a window into sleep's role in memory

March 24, 2017
Sleep provides essential support for learning and memory, but scientists do not fully understand how that process works on a molecular level. What happens to synapses, the connections between neurons, during sleep that helps ...

Recommended for you

Study points to possible new therapy for hearing loss

October 15, 2018
Researchers have taken an important step toward what may become a new approach to restore hearing loss. In a new study, out today in the European Journal of Neuroscience, scientists have been able to regrow the sensory hair ...

Sugar, a 'sweet' tool to understand brain injuries

October 15, 2018
Australian researchers have developed ground-breaking new technology which could prove crucial in treating brain injuries and have multiple other applications, including testing the success of cancer therapies.

Scientists examine how neuropathic pain responds to Metformin

October 15, 2018
Scientists seeking an effective treatment for one type of chronic pain believe a ubiquitous, generic diabetes medication might solve both the discomfort and the mental deficits that go with the pain.

Abnormal vision in childhood can affect brain functions

October 13, 2018
A research team has discovered that abnormal vision in childhood can affect the development of higher-level brain areas responsible for things such as attention.

Study: Ketogenic diet appears to prevent cognitive decline in mice

October 12, 2018
We've all experienced a "gut feeling"—when we know deep down inside that something is true. That phenomenon and others (like "butterflies in the stomach") aptly describe what scientists have now demonstrated: that the gut ...

Two seemingly opposing forces in the brain actually cooperate to enhance memory formation

October 12, 2018
The brain allows organisms to learn and adapt to their surroundings. It does this by literally changing the connections, or synapses, between neurons, strengthening meaningful patterns of neural activity in order to store ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.