The benefits of exercise are widespread and well known. Exercise is key to not only our physical health but also for our emotional and cognitive (learning and memory) well being. Regular exercise can lead to the formation of new neurons in the brain leading to improved learning and memory.
Exercise should be part of everyday life, just like eating and sleeping. But, what if for some reason you are unable to exercise? Worry not! Researchers might have found a pill/enzyme which might be able to replace the good old treadmill.
A new research article published in the journal Science suggests that blood from a fit mice which exercises regularly can be used to improve the memory and other brain functions of old mice which doesn’t exercise. In other words, exercise releases beneficial factors into the blood stream which could potentially be injected into non-exercising individuals leading to the same cognitive benefits (provided by exercise).
Saul Villeda and others have proposed for sometime now, that blood from young mice could help rejuvenate the brain and muscles in old mice. Saul Villeda and colleagues from University of California, San Francisco have now identified a specific enzyme which could provide the cognitive benefits of exercise. An enzyme called glycosylphosphatidylinositol specific phospholipase D1 (Gpld1, which is made by the liver is produced in mice that exercise regularly. When blood plasma from exercising mice was injected into old non-exercising mice, the researchers observed significant improvements in the cognitive function of the older mice. There was also growth of new neurons in non-exercising older mice which received the plasma from exercising mice. (This increase was comparable to that seen in regularly exercising mice.)
To show the relevance of this study in humans the team also showed that Gpld1 blood levels were significantly higher in a group of elderly people who regularly exercised than in those who didn’t.
This study seems very promising, especially for individuals who are immobile or are unable to exercise due to old age and other reasons. Villeda’s team now hopes to find a drug that could mimic this effect and be given to elderly people who are too frail to exercise. Is that really a possibility? Only time will tell. Until then don’t give up the good old treadmill!