How running can heal the brain

Canadian researchers recently published in Cell Reports a study showing that they discovered a molecule that can repair some types of brain damage. The molecule is triggered by running.

This molecule, called VGF nerve growth factor inducible, helps heal myelin, the protective coating that surrounds and insulates nerve fibres.

The researchers noticed the molecule while studying genetically modified mice with small cerebellums, which controls balance and movement. These mice couldn’t walk well and typically lived for only a month or so. If the mice run freely on a wheel, however, their lifespan increased to over a year. Plus, these mice gained more weight and improved balance. If they stopped running, their symptoms returned and their lifespan shortened.

After analyzing the brains of the mice, the researchers found that their myelin was much greater than their sedentary counterparts. Through further testing, they discovered the VGF molecule, which is released by the brain during exercise. The molecule also has an anti-depressant effect, which is why exercise feels good for many people.