University of South Carolina

Have brain fatigue? Arnold School study finds regular exercise may be the cure

OK, couch potatoes. As if the promise of a healthy heart and a trim waistline weren’t enough to get you moving, researchers at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health have found another reason to hit the gym: an energized brain.

That’s right: A little exercise may be just the thing to get those brain cells firing again, according to a study led by Dr. Mark Davis, professor in the Arnold School’s department of exercise science.

Researchers have known for years that regular exercise increases the number of organelles, called mitochondria, in muscle cells, Davis said. Mitochondria generate energy, so an increase is believed to underlie many of the positive physical effects of exercise, such as increased strength or endurance.

Exercise also has positive mental effects, such as relieving depression and improving memory. However, the mechanism behind this occurrence has been unclear until now.

The Arnold School study found that regular exercise, defined as 20- to 30 minutes of moderate activity daily, increases the number of mitochondria in brain cells, leading researchers to believe that, just as in muscles, increased mitochondria is linked to improved mental health.

The results of the study appear in the Articles in Press section of the Journal of Applied Physiology, both of which are published by the American Physiological Society.

“These findings suggest that exercise training increases the amount of mitochondria in the brain, much like it increases mitochondria in muscles,” said Davis, director of the exercise biochemistry laboratory at the Arnold School.

The increase in brain mitochondria not only may boost exercise endurance by making the brain more resistant to fatigue, but it also may have implications for the treatment of mental disorders, making exercise a potential treatment for psychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative diseases, Davis said.

“These findings could lead to the enhancement of athletic performance through reduced mental and physical fatigue, as well as to the expanded use of exercise as a therapeutic option to attenuate the negative effects of aging, and the treatment and/or prevention of neurological diseases,” Davis said.

The study team included Jennifer L. Steiner and Jamie L. McClellan, doctoral students in the Arnold School of Public Health; Dr. E. Angela Murphy, assistant professor at the USC School of Medicine; and Dr. Martin D. Carmichael, a post-doctoral fellow in the Arnold School.

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Posted: 09/22/11 @ 2:00 PM | Updated: 09/27/11 @ 12:16 PM | Permalink