I think the studies are looking at this backwards. Physical activity should probably be looked at as the natural state of humans and ask why lack of physical activity affects the brain.
Then it probably makes a lot more sense, the brain is comprised of cells, just like muscles, that are either anabolic or catabolic. A lack of physical exercise is going to put all cells, including brain cells, in a catabolic state the same as muscle atrophy will waste away muscles due to lack of physical activity.
Cells are cells, they are where energy is made, they are binary only existing in anabolic or catabolic states and never simultaneously existing in both states. Lack of exercise put the cells in catabolic states and long term catabolic states lead to metabolic/energy production problems in the cells. So naturally if you consider lack of exercise as the natural state of humans, sure it will appear physical activity improve brain function.
I wonder if there's a selfless gene in humans that reduces the reproductive fitness/longevity of humans that aren't pulling their weight for the group. I could imagine that a gene that shortens the life of a member in a group could increase the survivability of the gene in the same way that we've documented selfless genes that spur primates to alert predators to save close relations at their own personal expense.
Lack of activity might just be telling the body that we're useless and we need to exit in order to help others. It's a silly idea, but just a shower thought I've been mulling over.
I can't answer your questions, but I can add some more food for thought to think about...consider the impact of ones microbiome in turning genes like this on/off. So you may have the "selfless gene" as you call it, but by default it is turned off, so you don't warn your own of the predator, now same exact hypthetical, but it just so happens you ate something that introduced new viruses/bacteria into your microbiome, which happened to change your gene expression and turn on the selfless gene causing "you" to warn your kind of the threat. Did you really warn them, or since the gene was only turned on by your particular microbiome at the time, are you just a host being controlled by trillions of bacteria and viruses?
So yeah, maybe there's actually some subsystem that controls social behavior, to get rid of someone from the group, or out them to the group by having them unintentionally sabotage themselves, etc.
Maybe people who can't self-terminate are turned into some threat to society that would get them targeted, but their minds present it as some kind of game.
I think that’s where sexual selection kicks in: slackers are not liked and have less sexual partners than those who have something to show off. Reducing longevity is not necessary since people loose fertility long before death
Its not about a "master switch" turning on/off good/bad. The systems must work together to promote healthy metabolism of the cells/energy production. Catabolism and anabolism have separate metabolic pathways controlled by a distinct set of hormones.
Anabolism and catabolism must be regulated to avoid the two processes occurring simultaneously. Each process has its own set of hormones that switch these processes on and off. Anabolic hormones include growth hormone, testosterone and estrogen. Catabolic hormones include adrenaline, cortisol and glucagon.
More generally going back to the idea of muscle...you can't lift weights and gain muscle (i.e. grow) without also gaining fat. Growth can't be isolated to muscle cells, the entire body must be anabolic to grow, which means growth of fat cells too. Many people do not understand this basic point and will swear they put on muscle and lost body fat, it doesn't work that way growth is an all or nothing metabolic process. What can be done is you can add more muscle than fat, but you will be adding both. Or in the alternative you can't lose fat and not loss muscle, if you lose fat you are catabolic and you will loss muscle. Similarly it may be possible to loss more fat than muscle, but you will be losing both. Unless you have evidence to the contrary, in which case you would be sure to be an overnight billionaire, without any exogenous drugs/hormones, it is impossible to simultaneously grow muscle/lose fat.
>you can't lift weights and gain muscle (i.e. grow) without also gaining fat
Of course you can. I'd be happy to share my Google sheet of daily weight, losing about 0.06lb/day, and my BodPod measurements showing going from 28% to 20% body fat while gaining 2.5lbs of muscle mass. Sarcopenia would have taken another 0.5lbs of muscle in that one year period.
Drew Baye has several articles on losing fat while gaining muscle. In the first few pages of Body by Science, Doug McGuff defines health as (1) the absence of disease and (2) a balance between anabolic and catabolic processes. Except McGuff makes it clear that almost the entire population in the developed world lives in a catabolic energy state, eating way more than we need, never flushing the stored glucose out of our muscles, the tank is always full. But while that is happening, sarcopenia [catabolic] is removing muscle mass as we age.
Sure your muscle/fat percentages changes over time. But you didn't simultaneously grow muscle and lose fat, that is not possible.
>Drew Baye has several articles on losing fat while gaining muscle
Again its done over time. There is never a point you are "losing fat while gaining muscle" simultaneously, you gain both or lose both...you can certainly gain more of one than the other, or lose more of one than the other.
Just as an example:
1. You lift putting yourself into a catabolic state, you will lose both fat and muscle in this state (your body if burning more fat than muscle...but its is breaking down both, it is not burning fat and growing muscle);
2. You refuel after your lifting with protein like Whey and some glucose to spike your insulin to force the protein into your muscles, you are now anabolic (your muscle cells and fat cells are both growing and storing this new fuel you consumed, and the protein is rebuilding the muscle, as a result your muscle growth slowly outpaces the fat cell storage and growth)
3. rise and repeat over time and yes you will lose fat and gain muscle (like you did), but the growth/losses never happened simultaneously. Your body was always either catabolic or anabolic...never both.
It is over time you achieve net loss of fat and gain in muscle, but physiologically it is impossible for those processes to occur at the same time.
Your theory of absolute anabolic vs. catabolic body state is absolutely bonkers. Biology does not work that way. Comprehend-able things are the simplified ones and every rule has exceptions.
That is exactly how physiology works (I think you may be mixing up chemical reactions with metabolic reactions). Its why when people talk about losing weight there is always a certain number of people who refer to the laws of thermodynamics (calories in/calories out), and generally that is true (calorie surplus = growth and calories deficient = break down).
Of course there are exceptions such as the body has hormones which cause certain exceptions like HGH which can trigger growth (anabolism) in caloric deficits or cortisol can cause breakdown (catabolism) in caloric surpluses.
Can you identify any metabolic pathway that is simultaneously both anabolic/catabolic?
>Countless chemical reactions take place in cells and are responsible for all the actions of organisms. Together, these reactions make up an organism's metabolism.
>When a chemical reaction takes place energy is either taken in or released.
>Two types of metabolic reactions take place in the cell: 'building up' (anabolism) and 'breaking down' (catabolism). Anabolic reactions use up energy. Catabolic reactions give out energy. They are exergonic.
At the lowest level there are chemical reactions, is it not fair to say that chemical reactions are binary? Either releasing or taking in energy?
Within the cell the net of the chemical reactions is the metabolism which are either anabolic or catabolic.
There is no doubt there are many processes where one reaction triggers the other in an ongoing but the chemical reactions or metabolic reactions (net chemical reactions) are either anabolic or catabolic.
I'll take my billion dollars in twenties please.
Anabolism and catabolism are constant and simultaneous processes, even on a cellular level.
Just because the processes don't happen simltaniously, doesn't mean you can't gain more muscle than fat (or gain more fat than muscle) or lose more muscle than fate (or lose more fat then muscle), I never said the two were done at the same rate, just the body will gain simultaneously or lose simultaneously...but the body can't both gain and lose simultaneously.
Link a study showing simultaneous anabolism of muscle and catabolism of fat, or vice-versa...I'll wait.
But that study does implicitly contradict even the latter. The subjects were fed hypocalorically and had a net negative change in weight, yet gained lean body mass, implying at least some of the lean mass gain was fueled by metabolizing stored fatty tissue.
I think when using the word "simultaneously" I fairly implied I am talking about metabolism (growth/breakdown) with respect to a point in time not over time.
>The former being what everyone means when they say they lost fat and gained muscle...
Again interpreting me fairly... I don't think anyone argues fat/muscle can not be gained or lost at varying rates resulting in net gains and net losses respectively over time.
>the latter being a mostly useless concept.
No more than understanding chemical reactions result in release or taking in energy. Sure for most people broad sweeping changes to diet and exercise will result in positive net changes to weight and MBI...but to athletes trying to gain muscle while not losing cardio, body builders cutting weight for a show, MMA/boxers making weight for a fight...these useless concepts come into play. Further, its not just world class athletes, to even the average joe going to the gym, these concepts are important to aid in maximizing gains, minimizing recovery times and improving overall performance when working out.
Why is this? Using your brain cells won't lead to muscle atrophy.
From research we know physical activity is healthy for the brain, but there's no reason this should be the case from first principles. You can make the same argument in the other direction.
"The brain and body have existed in state with limited energy. So to maintain homeostasis when the muscles are used it puts the brain into a catabolic state to feed the new stronger muscles."
And if catabolism between muscles and the brain is linked then surely steroids will make people every smart by switching the entire body into anabolism from catabolism.
> Cells are cells, they are where energy is made, they are binary only existing in anabolic or catabolic states and never simultaneously existing in both states
This is 100% not true. All cells are simultaneously building stuff and tearing stuff down. Some hormones like insulin say "build more stuff, tear less down" and others like cortisol say "tear stuff down and stop building".
But the body can simultaneously build some stuff and tear other stuff down. Consider the transitions from different types of muscle fiber. From beefy body builder muscles to lean marathon running muscles. That will be tearing down a lot of proteins but building up a lot of mitochondria.
Ever hear of marathon runners hitting the wall or bonking? That is the runner's body shutting down to preserve the remaining fuel to keep the braining running. That is the function of the brain is given priority over other organs and systems in the body when the brain/body are not fat adapted and glucose stores are running low.
>and if catabolism between muscles and the brain is linked then surely steroids will make people every smart by switching the entire body into anabolism from catabolism.
Certain muscle enhancing supplements due have recorded benefits to cognitive function, for example creatine (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29704637). That said "steroid" is a broad brush stroke without a specific meaning as far as actual chemicals/hormones go. Moreover, as we know "steroids" in the general sense typically work by enlarging cells in the body, which yes may have helpful and desired effects with respect to muscle growth, but negative effects in other areas (enlarged heart) so unnatural growth does not equal unbridled benefit...rather anabolism (growth) is a normal and natural process that also includes catabolism (breakdown).
I think not wanting to do more work or exert more energy than needed is the natural state of all of nature. Nothing does anything more than what requires the least amount of energy. However since humans are at least somewhat self aware they can 'determine' regular exercise is ultimately less annoying or less energy than being obese, depressed, and with likely more medical problems.
I remember a bit of research that came out of Seymour Papert's work. They took kids who were so severely disabled that they were immobile, and gave them a (physical) Logo Turtle to command, and to move around an obstacle course. The underdeveloped bits of their brain that governed locomotion started growing.
PLAY - Playing a physical game like tag, catch, soccer, volley ball, hide and seek... provides both physical exercise and cognitive / social stimulation because of group play's dynamic nature.
This next bit might not be useful. In college, the distance from my apartment to school was 15 - 20 minutes. And I took to the habit of listening to audio books on my ride (traffic was low so it was relatively safe).
I noticed that if I listened to a track while riding, I would remember exactly where I was the next time I listened to the track.
(The track reminded me of the location, rather than the location reminded me of the track.)
I experienced the same thing recently by listening to a book on my drive to/from work! I often listened to sections of the book a second time to catch things I missed, or to help ideas sink in, and found that I could often clearly picture the stretch of road on which I heard a passage.
If you learn how to do a good get-up, it's one of the best full body workouts. 10-15 of those, 80-100 swings, and you're basically doing simple and sinister.
My favorite part of it is I don't have to go for a run and I still get a great cardio workout!
I feel like there is a different and very high-quality kind of focus that comes from having to perform correctly or die.
Most of the time the climbing I do is not really "perform or die", but I've been climbing a lot of easier stuff where there's no real way to protect anything... so I end up "running it out" and a failure would be deadly. So, like technical climbing moves with a 30M potential fall if I slip, but a fair degree of confidence that I won't slip.
That is a much different head space than, say the flow state I feel riding a mountain bike.
There were enough footholds and handholds most of the way but I was stretching to get them and at one point my left foot slipped and I was left hanging on the pressure of my right foot and right arm pressed diagonally against weak holds, left side of my body dangling. There wasn't enough grip on my hand to hang by my right arm and I wouldn't have been able to balance on my right foot so I needed both to stay perfectly put, the right hand side of my body like an extended piston jammed between two points, grip slipping. I let go with my right hand then pushed off the right foothold as much as I could on the loose foot grip, got a little air while swinging my left hand up to get the next hold. Grabbing the hold I quickly pulled up my feet get access to higher footholds, body scrunched up to use them they were so close to the new handholds. Then with my feet in position I pushed my body up to get access to two new handholds and was back in a stable position.
I made it to the top but in that moment when my foot slipped I felt my heart drop so suddenly I never felt more focused in my life on the actions I was going to take next.
Dumb move to start it I guess but I was a bored teenager and wanted to challenge myself. I'd climbed rocks and stuff on the coast but never actually scaled a cliff before that point. Never did it again, never got propper training to learn good technique. Shame really because I had an affinity with it.
To expand on the idea, I find that the actual "workout" part of climbing is not super effective... I mean, walking/ hiking is a workout too but by itself it's not going to bring about many physiological changes without a lot of additional targeted work. For context, I don't climb "hard"... I lead trad around 5.9+, sport around 11a/b, and was grunting up some WI4 this weekend as a newbie ice climber in Ouray-- I don't boulder outside of a gym if I can avoid it.
I think most people can climb 5.10 outside without changing a lot of fitness... the skills and techniques are so much more important than strength, assuming a basic level of fitness.
What I have found is that I'm a lot more likely to do actual working out when I have a project I'm trying to get strong enough to do.
Additionally, climbing keeps me doing approaches with a pack, and there is fitness that comes with that practice. Or I need to get up hella early, so it often prevents me from drinking. Or I have a reason to fast and keep my weight as low as possible without feeling like I'm jut being neurotic and picky about what I eat.
That is all to say, I've gotten a lot of stoke for working out from climbing, but the climbing itself hasn't been specifically great workout wise.
So maybe this is just a quibble, and not a disagreement; I certainly like to recommend that people get out and climb and it sure has gotten me around the issue of not wanting to exercise, even if I don't find it to be a great workout in itself.
But that quibble does change the character of the recommendation, I think: in general, I think that any hobby which benefits from high levels of fitness is a good thing that makes working out easier. Mountain biking, back country skiing, mountaineering, canyoneering... all of those are great and make getting into the gym feel like it has a much higher pay-off.
It is basically like Fight Club if the first two rules were the opposite.
 https://www.amazon.com/Congruent-Exercise-Weight-Training-Ea..., "Congruent Exercise: How To Make Weight Training Easier On Your Joints"
Perform your prescribed duty, for action is better than inaction. A man cannot even maintain his physical body without work.
I think some people just despise physical activities, like there are a lot of people who just refuse to think.
Swimming, Soccer, Rock Climbing, Hiking, Kayaking, Free running, Martial Arts, Fencing, Yoga, Surfing, Dancing (Samba, Ballroom, Contemporary...), Long walks, Cycling.
My favourites are cycling because I feel so free and I love the sensation of speed and climbing because I have a natural talent for it and I love the feeling of getting to the top.
There is more to "I hate physical activity" than the gym, too. Some of us have seriously been looking for the proverbial "something you enjoy" for decades and haven't found it.
You can also strap a competition car to your arse, and try to beat the quick peeps at an autocross track.
The key mental switch for me was leaving behind the mindset of accomplishment through grind, tough, suffer, and instead train, train, train, and take it easy & enjoy yourself.
"The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare"
I've definitely noticed a cognitive boost when I switched from gym weightlifting to cardio/endurance based on outdoors activities (trailrunning, strenuous hikes). The latter has given me an intense calm and mental space to work on problems that I did not get from weightlifting.
Sounds interesting and potentially fun. And it might provide more motivation for exercise. Startup idea...
This. I have noticed a significant mental “clearing” since I started boxing. Being forced to think when you are really tired is key.
It had me pondering if perhaps humans evolved to become smarter in response to these frequent physical stressors. Like if we find ourselves regularly having to outrun predators and/or chasing prey to survive, it would probably be advantageous to grow smarter and depend less on endurance and speed.
So I've been taking an attitude that exercise is a faux form of brute-force survival. That the body will respond both by becoming stronger and smarter, as long as it continues experiencing having to run miles regularly to survive.
"regularly" never happened. We are not cheetahs nor gazelles. Most popular ideas around "hunters gatherers" are false.
Australian aboriginals are a good example of how most of humans lived.
My understanding is a major evolutionary advantage humans enjoyed is the exceptional ability to pursue prey for sustained periods, effectively wearing them out, thanks to our excellent endurance and the sophistication necessary for pacing one self.
If you weren't being smart about it, and sprinted like a scared deer, you'd exhaust yourself and fail. Well, perhaps that results in a mechanism of smarting up when we're over-exerting ourselves regularly.
I wonder why brain dont get motivated/incentivized to keep it going(running or physical activity) when its in "improved" state and why it has to reach "feeling down" state to get motivated again. Is it just me or others have similar experience?
This is one area where discipline and a routine really helps. Just force yourself out into the activity, it'll always feel better afterwards.
Lol, humans will only run from a predator one time. This is not Hollywood, you don't outrun jaguars, bears or wolf packs.
A car on the other hand has layers and layers of abstraction between you and your environment. Satnav, ABS, suspension, petrol gages, heated seats, lane-assist, gear boxes, seatbelts, AC, and automatic windscreen wipers.
Unless you're a racing driver in a suitably setup car, of course.
An experiment comparing treadmill running vs outside running (as mentioned in the article) would help determine to whether tasks like navigation and non-essential sensory stimuli like smelling the air contribute to BDNF levels. I'd be curious to see if there'd be a difference.
Driving, you're heavily insulated from most noise (or, like in my Jeep, your hearing is overwhelmed by road noise). You're not smelling your environment, nor feeling it, and certainly you're not exercising as many muscle groups.
I'd speculate (ok, wild guess) that it's the combination of blood flow, muscle exercise, all of your senses, which is so beneficial. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Child_in_the_Woods.
>In particular, playing Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day over two months increased adult volunteers’ brain volume in their right hippocampus, the right prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum. These regions in the brain are responsible for memory formation, strategic planning, muscle control, and spatial navigation.
Though it's tempting wishful thinking because it saves us from leaving our computer chair. "Maybe I can just enter a flow mode learning Elm/Rust instead of exercising!"
There is even a tendency to fool ourselves into thinking that we have broken free of it, whilst still having that feeling of worry simmering in the background.
"Some people have longer ears than others. Maybe they were better able to hear predators and avoid them and therefore theirs genes spread further..."