Your Brain On Exercise: Rewarded With Testosterone and New Neurons

3d rendered illustration - hippocampus

Hippocampus (yellow) deep in the brain

More proof that exercise is good for your brain as well as your body. Recent Japanese research shows that exercise such as jogging floods your brain with testosterone and spurs growth in specific memory areas, the important hippocampus region.

Exercise is little less than a magic elixir for our health. It is not quite magic, though, in that we still have to earn these health rewards by actively exercising our bodies. When we do exercise by moving our bodies under our own power, especially moving them quickly so we breathe hard and start to sweat, astounding benefits take place in our bodies and brains.

A very long list of health benefits of exercise need not be repeated here. Most of the lifestyle related maladies most that strike down people in modern society stem, in good part, from insufficient exercise. Cardiovascular and strength exercises provide preventative, curative and restorative solutions to many of our modern health maladies.  All that and they make you strong and feel great too!

The Japanese research would indicate that as least part of the elation often felt during and after exercise may be explained by the increases in testosterone in the brain. Testosterone is called the “male hormone” and indeed it is associated with the gonads (and elsewhere) and occurs at levels around eight times higher in male than female animals, including humans. But all people produce testosterone. Not unlike the runner’s high, which has been associated with endorphins and endocannabinoids produced during exercise, testosterone provides an energized, pleasant feeling. All these enjoyable effects associated with exercise may provide evolutionary benefit, that is, rewarding physical activity that might help feed the family by encouraging hunting or other survival activity.

More than just feeling good, though, this new research shows that the dihydrotestosterone (DHT) produced causes actual new brain cell growth in the area we need it most, the hippocampus, deep down in our brains. This vital area is associated with memory and benefits greatly from new neurons coming on-line. A hippocampus refreshed by these new neurons can help retain memory, promote new learning, protect from depression, and generally help the brain operate more efficiently. DHT, earned through exercise, is necessary for this rejuvenating neurogenesis.

Do yourself and your brain a favor. Walk a lot, at least 10,000 steps a day. Try to raise your heart rate and break into a sweat for at least a few minutes each day.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Aug 7;109(32):13100-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1210023109. Epub 2012 Jul 17.

Mild exercise increases dihydrotestosterone in hippocampus providing evidence for androgenic mediation of neurogenesis.

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