Anyone who runs regularly can attest to the mental benefits in addition to the obvious physical ones. I honestly believe that running played a crucial role in keeping me sane during the first few years of managing the challenges associated with Rett Syndrome. Up until recently though scientists couldn’t exactly explain how this mental health relationship actually works within our bodies.
The good news is they are getting closer to understanding how exercise at a cellular level can improve our mental health. In early October 2013 research was published indicating they have identified a protein called FNDC5 that gets produced in muscle cells during exercise and then gets released into the bloodstream. This protein or related byproduct can then cross the blood brain barrier and thus affect the inner workings of the brain, and thus our mental health. In their mice studies, they found that exercise also increases the production of FNDC5 in the hippocampus, a brain region responsible for learning and memory. This has important implications in being able to mitigate the development of certain diseases like Alzheimers or Parkinsons.
Although the research community still has more work to do on the scientific front, there is more than ample evidence out there already establish a strong relationship between exercise and physical and mental benefits. Prior to this article I didn’t need any more convincing to get active again but reading it only reaffirms the priority it should take in all of our lives.
Source: Science. Protein Pathway Links Exercise to Brain Health. October 18th, 2013 Vol 342