Turns out you can simply run from your problems — stress-related memory problems, to be exact.
New research from the Brigham Young University shows that exercise helps protect your memory from the negative impacts of stress. According to the findings, based on mouse trials in the lab, running could help mitigate the destructive effect of stress on synapses in the hippocampus, a part of the brain which handles learning and memory.
Running at full efficiency
“Exercise is a simple and cost-effective way to eliminate the negative impacts on memory of chronic stress,” said study lead author Jeff Edwards.
The biological systems that underpin memory formation-and-recall, our memory “hardware,” if you will, are synapses between neurons. Each memory (made of congruent bits of information) is initially encoded in a few such connections, but becomes more stable over time, as repeated recalls determine the neurons that store it to create more synapses — a process called long-term potentiation (LTP). Pronounced or chronic stress, however, has been shown to weaken synaptic ties between these memory-storing neurons, decreasing LTP and ultimately affecting our ability to retain memories and their quality.
Edwards’ team set out to find if physical exercise can help insulate LTP processes, and thus overall memory, from the effects of stress. For the paper, the team worked with two groups of mice over a 4-week period. One group, the control sample, was left sedentary, while the other was given running wheels to exercise. The mice in this latter group averaged 5km (3.1mi) of running per day.
Half of the mice in each group were then put through a battery of stress-inducing trials, such as being made to walk on an elevated platform or swimming in cold water. The authors measured the rats’ LTP one hour after each stress-inducing trial.
They report that exercise helps maintain normal levels of LTP even in the face of chronic, or sustained, stress. Stressed mice in the exercise group had significantly greater LTP than those in the control group, and performed just as well as non-stressed mice on a maze experiment designed to test their memory. Additionally, they found mice in the exercise group made “significantly fewer” memory errors in the maze compared to sedentary mice.
All in all, the findings are quite exciting but should be taken with a grain of salt, as the team worked with mice alone, not human subjects. Still, the results suggest exercise might be an effective method to conserve your learning and memory capacity from high levels of stress. Don’t wait until the findings can be replicated in human trials, though, because exercise is an important part of a healthy and happy life.
“The ideal situation for improving learning and memory would be to experience no stress and to exercise,” Edwards said.
“Of course, we can’t always control stress in our lives, but we can control how much we exercise. It’s empowering to know that we can combat the negative impacts of stress on our brains just by getting out and running.”
So go out there and show everyone that you can, in fact, outrun your (memory) problems!
The paper “Running exercise mitigates the negative consequences of chronic stress on dorsal hippocampal long-term potentiation in male mice” has been published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.