A study published in the journal of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory has revealed that running can help negate the effects of stress and protect the region of the brain which is responsible for memory and learning. When co-occurred with stress, exercise helps to retain the LTP (Long Term Potentiation) instead of reducing it.
LTP is the process of synaptic strengthening. Chronic stress weakens the synapses, which decreases the LTP and ultimately affects the memory. Synapses are connections between neurons and memory formation and recall takes place ideally when the synapses are strengthened inside the hippocampus.
“Exercise is a simple and cost-effective way to eliminate the negative impacts on memory of chronic stress,” said Jeff Edwards, associate professor at Brigham Young University in the US.
Researchers used mice to carry out the experiment. One group of mice used running wheels over a 4-week period (averaging five kilometer per day) while the other set of mice was left idle.
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.
The mice that were under stress and had exercised showed a greater LTP than the stressed mice who were inactive.
To test their memory, a maze running experiment was conducted in which the researchers found that stressed mice who exercised performed just as well as the group of non-stressed mice. They also found that exercising mice made less memory errors in the maze as compared to the inactive mice.
The findings conclude that exercise is a feasible method to protect the learning and memory mechanisms from the negative impacts of stress.
“The ideal situation for improving learning and memory would be to experience no stress and to exercise. Of course, we can’t always control stress in our lives but we can control how much we exercise,” Edwards said.
“It’s empowering to know that we can combat the negative impacts of stress on our brains just by getting out and running,” he said.