Exercise helps the brain by releasing a brain-healthy protein

August 31, 2016

We know that exercise is tied to a lot of health benefits and that besides helping the rest of the body, exercise also improves the brain’s health and strength in many different ways ranging from learning skills and focus to memory and combating stress.

A new study from the US Government’s National Institutes of Health helps explain one aspect of the benefits that exercise provides to the brain. The study reported that skeletal muscle cells secrete a protein, Cathepsin B, in higher quantities for people who exercised regularly on a treadmill.

Researchers reported that an increase in blood Cathepsin B levels corresponded to an improved performance in visual memory tests for humans and that it also resulted in improved performance for mice in spatial memory and maze navigational skills.

Exercise resulted in increased muscle production of Cathepsin B and increased secretion of this protein into the bloodstream and researchers also used mice to verifiy that this protein was able to cross the blood-brain barrier and thereby influence the brain. In other studies, elevated levels of Cathepsin B have been observed in some ailing people (e.g. cancel patients), however, it is unclear whether the elevated levels were due to the body’s attempt to combat the ailment or whether it was due to other reasons.

The recent studies demonstrate that exercise leads to increased levels of Cathepsin B and that this is directly linked to improved brain performance for healthy people. It isn’t easy to figure out every detail about the brain, but this study on exercise, Cathepsin B and the brain helps improve our understanding on how the brain benefits from exercise.