Welcome to our first Wellness Wednesday Blog! Visit AMSA On Call each Wednesday to get tips and advice on living a healthy lifestyle during your medical training. We will focus on physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being. If you have ideas for us, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The writers of this blog consist of the members of the American Medical Student Association Wellness and Student Life Action Committee. We hope you enjoy our first post!
Exercise and the Brain
By Dasha Nesterova
AMSA Wellness and Student Life Action Committee
As a student interested in becoming a physician, I have always been well aware of the benefits of an active lifestyle for overall health. Yet knowing how exercising daily, for example, could help protect me from developing heart disease later on in life has not always helped me make the best decisions during moments when I have needed to study for a set of exams. Rather than maintain my fitness schedule, there have been times that I have decided to skip a trip to the gym or an outdoor jog just to get an extra hour of studying in. I’m sure many students have faced similar decisions not just once in a while, but almost daily. As we move up in our careers it becomes especially difficult to balance our own health needs with the demands of our various commitments. Rarely do we receive grades on how often we go running, eat healthy food, or get enough sleep.
Yet, what if going on that run actually helped you study better?
Research on both mice and humans has begun to show that exercise helps to generate new neurons in the hippocampus, the area of the brain vital to memory development. Mice and rats that have undergone weeks of aerobic exercise have been found to have about twice as many neurons in their hippocampi as their sedentary counterparts. Yet, not only have researchers seen an increase in the number of neurons, they have also witnessed an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor BDNF, a protein responsible for supporting existing neurons and helping form new synapses between them as well as sparking neurogenesis. After exercising, humans have been found to have higher levels of serum BDNF. This may indicate that after exercising, you may become better at making neural connections, improving your ability to remember new information. More importantly, it appears that even walking can help increase the size of your hippocampus, with aerobic exercise being associated with increased verbal memory in older adults.
So, instead of skipping that run, it could be to your benefit to hit the trails! Study smarter, not harder.
For more information on some of these findings please feel free to look through the links below:
New York Times article by Gretchen Reynolds on “How Exercise Could Lead to a Better Brain”
Scientific American article by Stephani Sutherland on “How Exercise Jogs the Brain”
Physical activity improves verbal and spatial memory in older adults with probable mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month randomized controlled trial
Spatial memory is improved by aerobic and resistance exercise through divergent molecular mechanisms