Want More & Better Brain Cells? Aerobics.

A fairly readable if a bit “friendly” article about a somewhat technical subject:


Your Brain On A Runner’s High: How Aerobic Exercise Creates New Cells Through Neurogenesis
Nov 5, 2016 10:00 AM By Quora Contributor

Recently, a group of scientists at the University of Ottawa published the newest evidence that getting off your duff makes your brain stronger. It’s sad news for the couch potatoes of the world. For those who wear out a pair of running shoes (or two) every year, it’s one of those studies that isn’t much of a surprise.

Physical exercise and specifically aerobic exercise does some very positive things for the brain. There’s a lot of scientific evidence that exercise allows for neurogenesis which is neuron repair and new neuron formation. Since the brain is heavily made up of neurons, high levels of neurogenesis are a good indication of a healthy brain. It’s like looking at a city and seeing a bunch of cranes and construction teams working on buildings. Only healthy systems have the resources for repairing infrastructure. Disrepair, by contrast, is a mark of wavering health.

Exercise is valuable for the brain in lots of different ways. Learning a new sport, like picking up golf or tennis for the first time, challenges the brain’s ability to remodel its connections. Any kind of exercise is a positive influence on the body, but neurogenesis seems to be triggered most by extended periods of aerobic exercise. High intensity interval training like you might find at cross fit doesn’t seem to provide the same increase in neuron repair.

Drat. I really don’t care for aerobic exercise. Much prefer things like weight lifting and digging in the garden.

So, OK, time to get the tires pumped up on the bike.

They then spend a while explaining the endorphin release and runners high that makes you feel good (that somehow I’ve never seemed to get… running does NOT make me feel good…) and then move on to the next bit.

The recent paper published from the scientists at the University of Ottawa saw that another chemical called VGF increased after aerobic exercise. VGF doesn’t stand for anything. That’s just its name.

I wondered about that as GF looks a lot like the abbreviation for Growth Factor… But the wiki says no too. It does have an interesting bit of information about how the works. ONE thing is transcribed into a string of amino acids, then it gets chopped up into bits that do different things. This is starting to explain how we can only have about 30,000 genes but a lot more protiens… Make one and then chop it into functional units.


VGF or VGF nerve growth factor inducible is a secreted protein and neuropeptide precursor that may play a role in regulating energy homeostasis, metabolism and synaptic plasticity. The protein was first discovered in 1985 by Levi et al. in an experiment with PC12 cells and its name is non-acronymic. VGF gene encodes a precursor which is divided by proteolysis to polypeptides of different mass, which have a variety of functions, the best studied of which are the roles of TLQP-21 in the control of appetite and inflammation., and TLQP-62 as well as AQEE-30 in regulating depression-like behaviors and memory. The expression of VGF and VGF-derived peptides is detected in a subset of neurons in the central and peripheral nervous systems and specific populations of endocrine cells in the adenohypophysis, adrenal medulla, gastrointestinal tract, and pancreas. VGF expression is induced by NGF, CREB and BDNF and regulated by neurotrophin-3. Physical exercise significantly increases VGF expression in mice hippocampal tissue and upregulates a neurotrophic signaling cascade thought to underlie the action of antidepressants.

So, OK. Take all those drugged up depressed kids sitting all day at desks plotting their revenge, and send them out for 2 hours of aerobic P.E. per day. But it does look like exercise is important to depression avoidance and good health.

Back at the original link:

Scientists haven’t yet pinned down all the things that VGF does. It’s like a secretive musician who might very well be publishing novels under a pseudonym. Chemicals in the body tend to moonlight and it might take decades to uncover all the things they do. VGF was the star of show that the scientists in Ottawa just published. These scientists were working with mice that were not normal. The mice had a genetic dysfunction that caused them to walk and move around in labored ways. The mice also had very short lifespans. Both of these afflictions, difficulty with movement and early death were associated with a genetic degradation of the cerebellum, the part of the brain generally known for control of physical movements.

What the scientists in Ottawa showed was that they could repair the genetic damage to the mouse brains in two ways. They could either give the mice a big dose of VGF, or they could give the mice a treadmill. In both cases the little vermin lived markedly longer, moved more normally, and showed positive infrastructure repair to the tissues in the brain.

This also would help explain things like the tendency of folks to suddenly go down hill when they retire and have a lot of leisure time; but get depressed just sitting around the house.

So, OK, I need to have a more formal exercise program as, at present, I’ve got zero aerobic anything going on.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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9 Responses to Want More & Better Brain Cells? Aerobics.

  1. p.g.sharrow says:

    If you retire, you die.
    There must be physical and mental challenge in your life to make you live.
    Like the Chief, I am not built for running, but I am built strong. So I do hard labor building things, moving rocks and digging in the ground. No running shoes for me, work boots. lots of walking and carrying things. Wear out a pair of boots in 18 – 20 months if I take good care of them.
    Up to your 60s you can rebuild your body if you have let it slide, but after that use it or lose it seems to be true. You must work up a good sweat nearly every day for at least 20 -30 minuets.
    Run, walk or dig a ditch. Have fun at it . Look foreword to the challenge of each day.
    Getting old is inevitable, Becoming infirmed is a choice…pg

  2. Steve C says:

    Damn. So, I have to overwork and pump myself up to the point where I’m all ‘ot an’ sweaty an’ ‘orrible, and that should keep my brain working. Yeeuch.

    I know! I’ll wait for the research that tells me that if I think very hard about difficult things, it’ll keep my body in good nick. Especially if it involves the provision of a little alcohol to help things along.

    It’s just slightly different biochemistry … :-D

  3. oldbrew says:

    I like to think aerobic exercise makes your well-earned beer taste better.

  4. p.g.sharrow says:

    @oldbrew; It really does…pg

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    I think I’ll work on the Aerobic Olympic Beer Lifting exercise…

    Lift, Pop, Suck, Swallow, BURP!
    Lift, Pop, Suck, Swallow, burp…

    Come on you slackers, LIFT!


  6. philjourdan says:

    There is something to that. Many times, a problem with work (technical crap that requires a lot of cerebral time, but no heavy lifting) is solved while doing yard work that requires the opposite (a lot of grunting and sweating, but minimal brain usage – shove pitchfork into mulch, lift, toss on ground – yea that is Mensa work!).

    I am like most here. You will not find me running marathons. But you will find me doing a lot of productive work like landscaping, mowing the yard, etc.

  7. H.R. says:

    Lift, Pop, Suck, Swallow, BURP!
    Lift, Pop, Suck, Swallow, burp…

    Faster, now. FASTER.
    Give me another 6.
    Feel the burn!

  8. p.g.sharrow says:

    @philjourdan; you are so right. Something about putting the body on autopilot with work that makes creative thought more productive. It also makes the work less taxing. I learned that milking cows when I was young and then later loading bales of hay on trucks. That first 50 bales was hell but if you got into the groove, all of the sudden you were placing the last of the 400 in it’s spot two hours later. Just sitting there working on a problem makes to too easy to be distracted or even fall asleep ;-( …pg

  9. Another Ian says:


    I tripped over this on a bloke (in later days a lecturer at James Cook Vet School) I knew pre and post his accident


    Re the exercise – pre accident he was a very active man who had a party trick one finger flex “exercise ” to the vocalization of “We must do our exercises, exercises, exercises”.. Plus other party items including a “verbal chainsaw”

    While maintaining that close to a perfect day was “Freeps, Morps and Coldps”. For those not familiar with this Oz idiom add an “i” and an extra “s” to the “ps” part.

    Given JCU and Peter Ridd I have to wonder how the “modern JCU” would have treated Max

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