Aging Neurosciences

Exercise Is Good For Your Brain (Repost)

repost (from November 2011)

Credit: © Eric Isselée / FotoliaCognitive decline with aging is an increasingly important research topic. This past November (2011) Science Magazine produced a special issue on the brain including   a summary article and a main article which discusses the impact on a specific neurodegenerative disease (spinocerebellar ataxia type 1) in mice.

A “mild” exercise regimen helped the mice live significantly longer. The effects lasted for a considerable time, even after stopping the exercise program. The disease studied has features in common with Alzheimer’s in that an insoluble protein that accumulates in nerves is involved. Exercise has been shown to have positive effects on Alzheimer’s disease and the research here on how exercise impacts the proteins and future exercise on a variety of growth factors produced during exercise may help in producing strategies for Alzheimer’s disease and numerous other degenerative diseases.

The accompanying summary article states:

“In addition to the benefits of exercise on brain health and cognitive function, it may promote slowing neurodegenerative disease progression. For example, exercise slowed the decline in cognitive abilities of Alzheimer’s disease patients and improved postural stability and balance in Parkinson’s disease patients.”


Another Reason to ExerciseAaron D. Gitler. Science 4 November 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6056 pp. 606-607. DOI: 10.1126/science.1214714

Exercise and Genetic Rescue of SCA1 via the Transcriptional Repressor Capicua. John D. Fryer, Peng Yu et. al. Science 4 November 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6056 pp. 690-693 DOI: 10.1126/science.121267




Walk Don’t Run: Ambling Along With 4.5 Million Year Old Flat Feet

by PRIBUT on OCTOBER 1, 2009

Ambling Along With 4.5 Million Year Old Flat Feet

A hominid species predating Lucy, (Australopithecus africanus) has been more fully described. Journalists have had first crack at the issue of Science in which the updated description of the species,  Ardipithecus ramidus (from 4.5 million years ago), appears. The rest of us could only see this issue late in the day.  The recently studied Ardipithecus specimens include the feet, which were clearly missing on Lucy (from 3.2 million years ago), but present among a limited set of other Australopithecus specimens. Ardipithecus was originally discovered in 1994 in Ethiopia.

The treasure trove of the day are the eleven fresh papers detailing  Ardipithecus and it’s (with a delay in publication for years) environment including botanical and other specimens found locally, the anatomy, and evolutionary conjectures all published in Science magazine. Details on excavation, locale, personnel, CT scans, three-dimensional reconstruction, dimensions and sizes of the specimens, were included in this comprehensive set of articles.

Ardipithecus was thought to live and spend time in trees, but would carefully climb rather than swing from the branches. Ardipithecus was also believed to spend time foraging for food, primarily plant based, on the ground while moving in a bipedal manner. Australopithecus was not a runner, nor is it likely with feet less well adapted  was Ardipithecus. Among other lower extremity differences between Homo erectus and Ardipithecus were flatter feet and an opposable big toe (metatarsus primus varus – actually  metatarsus primus adductus – a large angle in stance between the first and second metatarsal bones – but I’ll have to check out more photos and study the  articles in detail in Science magazine). If Ardipithecus twiddled her thumbs she could likely also twiddle her opposable big toes. Speaking of toes, one of the changes that is thought to make running possible for the later hominids was a shortening of the length of toes, in addition to an increase in arch height, and a host of other biomechanical changes.

An opposable big toe with a non-functional first ray makes for a decidedly different bipedal gait than even Lucy had. The tight grouping of the cuneiforms present in later hominids allowed the first ray to function effectively in weight transfer and propulsion rather than the little it could do as an opposable digit without stability in ground based bipedal gait. Of course a humanoid great toe does not offer much assistance in the trees. An important feature to note is that Ardipithecus did not knuckle walk, as can be determined from the wrist and hand structure, during bipedal gait, although the upper extremities were long. Nor did Ardipithecus appear to brachiate or swing through the tree branches.

Below are images of the upcoming cover of Science magazine with Ardipithecus on the cover and an image of Lucy missing her feet.

Update: Freely available articles at Science









Related Articles

Movement and Exercise Spurred Evolutionary Brain Development

In The Beginning: We Were Made To Stand Upright

Walk This Way (Early Foot Prints  of Homo erectus)

Additional References:

Fossils, feet and the evolution of human bipedal locomotion W E H Harcourt-Smith and L C Aiello. J Anat. 2004 May; 204(5) : 403–416.
  Walk Don’t Run





Evolution Science

Evolution and Exercise: What Made The Brain Get Bigger

by PRIBUT on AUGUST 3, 2009 (retrieved from Internet Archive )

Stimulating Brain Development: Evolution Of The Brain Spurred By Movement (a speculative hypothesis)

We previously mentioned the early hominid development of upright, obligatory, habitual bipedal posture mentioning the richer protein and calorie dense food which may have enabled better brain development. We’ll expand on that a bit with a “big think” and take it down a slightly different road. And we can have a bit of fun with a speculative hypothesis.

My thought (and hypothesis) is that exercise, viewed as aerobic movement, was the spur to development of a larger brain as is found in later hominids and modern humans. Tool making, enhanced socialization, all other more modern features and the larger cortex itself derive from motion, movement, and the positive effect that “exercise” has on the chemistry of the brain.

As we stop and think about what made the brain enlarge we hear those who say that bipedal movement freed up our hands. Now you can walk and juggle or do other tricks.  Another theory posits that early hominids could now carry food back to their tribe, make tools, ultimately jewelry and developed other useful talents. Whatever occurred likely was multi-factorial and not a simple single means event.

In keeping with Darwinian principles, it is incorrect to say that the environment created changes. We need to look to see what environmental features were taken advantage of by those best prepared to do so. Mutations are random, selection is purposeful, and geared towards the survival of those most fit for the environment. There are a variety of phenotypes present at any time, and those exhibiting desirable and helpful characteristics do survive and pass on those useful genes.

Mammalian brains produce BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) which assists in neural plasticity and in the creation of new neural cross links. Humans today moving at high rates of oxygen uptake show that at up to 60% of maximum VO2, several things come into play. The first is an increase in Cerebral Blood Flow (CBF). The CBF increases as does the production of  BDNF and other compounds that among other effects stimulate brain growth and development. These other compounds include IGF-1 (insulin growth factor 1), VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor), and FGF (fibroblast growth factor).

Bathing the brain in this enhanced biochemical “miracle grow” mix, likely would have resulted in superior neural growth and response for those who were best able to respond to this physical and neurological environment.  This seems to have been a contributing factor in the maximal development of the early hominid brain, and continued down through the hominid line.brain







Those most able to respond to the biochemical results of their activity of  motion, movement, and gathering would have become the smartest of the lot and been most likely to survive . They would be better suited for survival and more able to pass on their genes.  Bipedal movement in hominids was first to be short in duration. Lasting for only a limited distance and allowed for limited scavenging.  Ultimately it resulted in habitual and obligate bipedalism of longer duration, and finally in walking and then, later, running.

There have been debates over the energetics of bipedal motion versus brachiation and advantages over older forms of quadripedal locomotion. But with the thought that nothing gets wasted, if the energetics don’t balance perfectly it is probable that the energy itself that may not have been optimally efficient for walking, certainly was put to excellent use in the development, enhancement, and gradual evolution of the hominid and ultimately modern human brain.

Bipedal walking allowed the former tree apes a  better and more easily sustained motion. This  over the course of time, possibly led to persistence hunting, or at the least an expanded range for gathering, foraging, and then much later hunting. And the migration out of Africa was another sustained effort and may have stimulated brain development.

Sensory stimuli, socialization, diet, and many factors went into brain evolution and development. Then, as now, it is likely that the sustained efforts of moving increased focus, attention, and concentration. Creating mental maps of where they had been, and how to return home gave their small brains a work out. And speculating a bit, ultimately mental maps led to many other things and perhaps even primitive games of hide and seek.  Later came blind folded chess and google maps.

Many facets of evolutionary thought are interesting and valuable. Socialization and network theory, the role of sensory stimulation all are explorable, viable theories and played a major role in evolution. Here we’ve brought into play another facet of hominid evolution not previously described. The energetics and resultant neurochemical (and other changes) as a result of  motion, movement and exercise is a contributing and driving force for brain development and evolution. Put this in the context of the fact that everything moves and there is nothing entirely still in the universe, we have another small factor to consider about our world and how we and it have evolved.

So it seems we weren’t just born to walk or run. We were born to think, develop and evolve. In fact, we’ve evolved to evolve. And evolution continues today. If your thoughts stop with barefoot running, and you think our evolution stopped then, you’ve got a lot more thinking and catching up to do. Exercise and movement are good for what ails you, and assisted in the development of today’s modern human brain.

(Outline presented at American Podiatric Medical Association Annual Scientific Seminar. August 1, 2009. Toronto, Canada)

(Link on Wayback Machine – Internet Archive)