Researchers in Japan have been discovering amazing things about the power of exercise to improve memory and overall brain function. We’ve talked before about the importance of maintaining a healthy circulatory system to take oxygen and nutrients to the brain, and also the types of nutrition to include in your diet to feed your brain and give it the energy it needs. Now we’re able to add another reason for regular exercise, and that’s all due to a substance called glycogen.
Brain cells depend on a steady supply of glucose for the energy they need to work, but within the last few years another substance has been found to play an important role in brain function, and that’s the carbohydrates stored in specialized brain cells known as astrocytes, which store them as glycogen. This is a source of fuel that’s held in the brain itself, not in the bloodstream, and is available for quick transformation and consumption by the neurons in the brain when they need more fuel. These stores of glycogen go down quickly when you’re exercising, but then get recharged just as quickly when you eat after you exercise.
The important thing about this recharging, as the scientists discovered, is that the stores of glycogen aren’t just replaced after exercising, they’re actually increased by more than half as much again. That means that after you exercise and “fuel up” again, your brain has even more of the nutrients it needs for optimal functioning.
And that’s not all – with further experimentation, the researchers found that after four weeks of regular exercise, the brain actually resets its glycogen levels so that what was once 50% more than normal is the new normal. That means that if you exercise regularly (and replenish your body with food and water afterwards), you’ll have a constant and abundant supply of the fuel your brain needs. The studies show that the glycogen levels of the hippocampus especially experience this growth in baseline glycogen levels, and that’s the part of the brain that’s directly involved in memory creation and storage.
If you’ve been waiting for a reason to start up your exercise program again, we think there’s not a better one than this.
Reference: T. Matsui, M. Okamoto et al. Laboratory of Exercise Biochemistry and Neuroendocrinology, University of Tsukuba, Japan. Journal of Physiology (March 2012).