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How exercise could lead to a better brain (nytimes.com)
92 points by epenn 1733 days ago | hide | past | web | 27 comments | favorite



In my own (somewhat humble) opinion, articles like these get the headline and angle completely wrong. It's backwards.

Animals' natural state, including humans', is lots of exercise. This is the default; it is what our bodies and brains are adapted to doing.[-]

A result like this demonstrates that a lack of exercise is harmful. Failure to exercise inhibits the brain from functioning properly as it is adapted to doing.

[-] "Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution." -- Dobzhansky


This occurs with dietary reporting too. Deficiencies in a population are reported as if alleviating the deficiency is an unnatural enhancement. I'm glad you mentioned this.


Pardon me if I don't grasp the meaning of this sentence. What is the link between deficiencies in a given population and its reporting and how does it relate with unnatural enhancement ?

Do you mean deficiencies shouldn't be reported or taken into account because the solutions (ie: eat better) to these situations are unnatural enhancements (dietary supplements, daily fixed and predictable food input, etc.) ?


Surely we are still evolving. Since civilization started, therefore we stopped running around or did less running, more than 100 if not perhaps 1000 if not even more generations have passed. During that time, we were evolving, thus adapting to the environment of a civilisation and moving away from the hunter gather running environment.

Rats do not have a civilisation. Humans do. Rats may need running, humans might not. For humans, demanding intellectual work may be better or just as good as running as far as cognition is concerned.


  A recent study of the brains of elderly mice, for
  instance, found 117 genes that were expressed
  differently in the brains of animals that began a
  program of running, compared with those that
  remained sedentary
That's really interesting. I thought exercise just made me healthier now. I didn't know it actually might be altering my genes.

If this result applies to humans, then my exercising will also benefit my descendents!


It's called Epigenetics; our environment actually influences which genes turn on and off: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1952313,00....


It's affecting gene expression, not genes.


This is correct, so it's not likely inherited (though we don't completely understand everything about inheritance such as the possible inheritance of miRNA). If you think of DNA as code, genes as specific programs, you can think of expression as how often those programs are run. "Running" in this sense means that the gene is copied to messenger RNA and send to the ribosome to synthesize proteins. Those proteins start as long chains like the dna/rna but immediately fold into complex shapes with unique properties that do various interesting things in the cell.


There was a scientific america article (I know not exactly "science") that showed how gene expression could in fact affect future offspring mainly through nurture. I believe the study was obese mice parents through gene expression would lead to obese mice children. However they believe this was caused through nurture.


Yes, those obese mice are called Agouti mice, and the concept overall is called epigenetics. The ON/OFF state of genes can be changed through diet, nurture, and more. For example, if you do not eat very nutritious food you might not have enough methyl groups to methylate (turn OFF) some of the genes that are currently ON but should naturally switch.

http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/obesity-epigenetics... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics


IANAB but I wouldn't be completely surprised if the gene expression of an egg or sperm cell or fetus depended on the conditions of the parent. (I wouldn't be surprised otherwise, if sperm and egg cells are designed to be as independent as possible from the parent.) It might not be gene expression in particular, after all, drug use affects babies, so why not obesity? Of course we were originally talking about gene expression within brains.


"epigenetic inheritance". Another example: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v479/n7373/full/nature1...


That's called "Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics", and it doesn't quite work that way. The more you know!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inheritance_of_acquired_charact...


Agreed about strict Lamarckism; however, also consider: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgenerational_epigenetics


Interesting, but it won't matter in the grand scheme of things because people will not waste the time it takes to exercise daily. If the researchers figured out how to get the benefits of exercise, which are supposedly awesome, then maybe it matters.

In fact I don't see why we fund any other exercise related research, or even most other health research at all until the exercise pill has been approved. Aside from the cure for cancer that is basically the only problem we have left worth worrying about.


"people will not waste the time it takes to exercise daily"

If you consider it waste you won't do it. As for me, I love the benefits of exercise and the experience of doing it. I exercise every day, twice a day, only a few minutes, but burpees, which are intense. What benefits?

- Discipline in all other areas of life

- Connecting with others who exercise

- Stable appetite

- Focus

- Easy to fall asleep and wake up

- A body that doesn't get winded and girls comment on with attraction

- According to the article my brain develops too

I also know not to waste time talking to people who consider exercise a waste of time. We have different values.

How I got started: http://joshuaspodek.com/how-begin-workout-routine

My exercise: http://joshuaspodek.com/knew-minute-day-workout (I do fifteen every morning and evening, plus I'm starting to do stretches in the morning).

Some benefits: http://joshuaspodek.com/more-on-burpees

Folks, don't wait for an "exercise pill." You can enjoy exercise and all the benefits that come with it.


You are obviously making up this benefit: "I also know not to waste time talking to people who consider exercise a waste of time. We have different values." since you've obviously wasted a significant amount of time writing this relatively lengthy comment as a response to someone who considers exercise a waste of time..


I shared my experience with a community of thoughtful people from whose experiences I have benefited, not with one individual.

I don't consider sharing experiences relevant to the post a waste of time. I value when people do it for me.


Oh wow, you obviously caught an important inconsistency, so the parent poster must be wrong wrong wrong!

Wait, nope.


Not what I said at all.


It is fair enough, I wouldn't consider it a waste either if I enjoy it either.

My problem is that I don't, basically. I hate the feeling of being sweaty, the shortness of breath, the constricting feeling in my throat, the thirst, etc.

But most of all I hate that if I spend the time doing that and the stop, six months later I will be back to square one. If I spend the time learning a new skill, reading a book or even watching a movie then six months later I would still have the skill or be able to talk about the book or the movie.


This is a great point. Despite coming from a very different starting point, it really resonates with me.

I love running, absolutely love it. In the past, I used to run at least 10 times a week and do a 4hr+ run in the beautiful mountains near my home about once a month. I enjoyed the nature, I felt good, and it did wonderful things both for my body and mind. It's amazing how easy everything feels when you have a resting pulse of 50!

On the other hand, I don't run anymore and unfortunately running fitness can be built or lost very quickly. After a few months of inactivity it really is mostly gone. Looking back on it now, it's very difficult not to feel a little bit guilty about all the hours I spent on running trails. I too, would prefer to have been building lasting skills such as learning a musical instrument or dancing.

The one exception is the times I went on long runs with my old roommate. That was worth it in every way since we often had great conversations and got several hours worth of running outdoors as a bonus!


I have to strongly disagree with your post. First, millions of people do "waste" the time it takes to exercise daily; it can even be enjoyable. It's certainly not an impossible task to motivate people to exercise.

Second, it seems somewhat odd to talk about "figuring out" how to get the benefits of exercising, when you could always ... well ... exercise.

Third, with a biological system as complex as the human body, it seems to require a lot of hubris to expect a pill to completely replace the role of exercise in maintaining health, with no side effects etc. I have trouble picturing doctors recommending such a pill instead of regular exercise; even if they do, I have trouble believing we are anywhere close to understanding the implications of trying to put the entire world on a pill to replace normal biological function.

Fourth, even if the pharmaceutical companies did assure me that their drug was a healthy, legitimate replacement for exercise, I personally would feel weird about living off of a pill. And it couldn't replace the role exercise plays in my life anyway (see also spodek's post).

Fifth, it seems a little odd to put a problem with a known solution (going to the gym) up next to finding the cure for cancer as a priority/challenge for humanity.


If we were all rational, we would all exercise, eat healthy, never cheat and save for retirement.

I just don't think that humanity is going to act rationally given that at least a large part of us haven't done so until now.


Or is it that people with a better brain like to exercise?


The article specifically eliminates this possibility. The mice in the study had no choice as to what group they would be in, so there was no self-selection effect.


It's probably self-reinforcing. The more you exercise the better your brain gets. The better your brain gets the more you exercise.




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