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Surprising Science

How Exercise Benefits Your Brain

Japanese scientists have uncovered that the body overcompensates for the drain of physical activity by pumping the brain full of glycogen, a carbohydrate that acts as an energy store. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Japanese scientists have just uncovered why exercising gives your brain such a powerful pick up. By examining the brains of animals on an exercise regimen, they saw that physical activity severely drains the energy resources that neurons need to fire, which in doing so provide for functions like thought and memory. Over time, however, the body begins to overcompensate for the resource drain by pumping higher-than-normal levels of glycogen, or stored carbohydrates, into higher-order regions of the brain like the frontal cortex and the hippocampus. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Until ten years ago, scientists thought the brain subsisted entirely on glucose, or blood sugar. But then researchers found specialized brain cells, now known as astrocytes, which support neurons by storing carbohydrates near by. When neurons are sufficiently deprived of energy, through exercise or hunger, “their neighboring astrocytes undergo a complex physiological process that results in those cells’ stores of glycogen being broken down into a form easily burned by neurons.” 

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