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.

Exercise Versus Dieting: Preventing weight gain

July 4, 2016

Conventional wisdom says that dieting is essential to weight loss and that exercise alone is generally insufficient for weight loss.

However, a new study looked at a related topic – preventing weight gain. This study compared three groups of obesity-prone rats. The control group was sedentary. The second group of rats exercised regularly in running wheels. The third group of rats was sedentary and on a calorie-restricted diet. All three groups ate the same kibbles though daily servings for the calorie-restricted group were 20% less than that for the group of runners.

Unsurprisingly, the control group turned out to be obese at the end of the study. The other two groups staved off obesity. However, the runners were metabolically healthier in terms of insulin sensitivity, cholesterol, burning more fat and they also seemed to have more metabolic activity within their brown fat. Interestingly, gut microbes in the runners were different from gut microbes in the calorie-restricted group, so exercise had a probiotic effect even though all groups had been fed the same kibbles.

This study suggests that exercise alone can deliver results that are far superior to dieting alone – at least for rats trying to avoid obesity. It seems reasonable to assume that this would be true for humans too, though it is obviously important to focus on both exercise and calorie intake while eating healthy food.