Monday, July 24, 2006

Sweat = Happiness

We all know about runner's high and the general feeling of well-being after a good swim or walk. Check out Gretchen Rubin's blog for hints on how to stick to a regular exercise schedule.

I think most of us also generally accept the idea that our brains are healthier if we exercise them, the "use it or lose it" school, and we also feel that great sense of well-being after a few minutes of concentration on a task, whether it's a knotty work problem or a challenging puzzle. We can feel good about being on the right track. Yet another research study has just been published in the August issue of the American Journal of Pathology. This one by Ambrée et al, reported on in Science Blog, examined the brains of mice that had lived in enriched enrivonments. The scientists found substantially fewer plaques and tangles associated with cognitive disease than in the brains of those not exposed to such environments. By chemically analyzing these results, the scientists discovered that mental and physical exercise (the enriched environment) offer protection from the build-up and aid in the clearance of certain enzymes associated with cognitive decline. And further, the effects appear to extend to multiple neural pathways.

I'm reminded of Prof. Marion Diamond's studies of enriched environments. Although most of her research has focused on the developing brains of children and the critical need for highly enriched environments, Prof. Diamond has now turned her attention to the other end of the developmental spectrum, which she sees as a continuum. She argues that we need "enriched" environments that offer mental and physical challenge all our lives if we are to have fit bodies and minds.

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