Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Upping the Pace in Brainy Rat Race

faster/harder=better?In a clever experiment on lab rats, Taiwanese researchers found that while a pleasurable run may significantly improve cognition, a painfully challenging one boosts it more. The study is described in an article by Gretchen Reynolds in Sunday’s New York Times. The research, conducted at the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan, had some rats run at their own pace on cage wheels, which they apparently enjoy, and forced others to keep up a higher pace on treadmills, which they don’t like so much. Both groups performed better at various brain-dependent tasks than a control group--which used brain fitness software, but did not exercise--but the second, harder-running group of mice did better than the first. In explanation, Henriette van Praag, an investigator in the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, tells Reynolds: ‘“It appears that various growth factors must be carried from the periphery of the body into the brain to start a molecular cascade there,” creating new neurons and brain connections. For that to happen, “you need a fairly dramatic change in blood flow.”

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