If you manage to drag yourself out of bed in the morning and go for a run while the rest of the world is still asleep, you probably don’t need more reasons to feel good about your habit — the accomplishment and the endorphins are probably doing it for you. But, what the hell, here’s another cause to feel smug while you cosplay a super-inspiring Nike ad every day: Researchers have found that running can make you smarter and improve your memory.
The New York Times reports that a recent study from National Institute of Health researchers published in Cell Metabolism examined the link between how endurance exercise affects muscles and how those in turn affect the brain.
One protein in particular, cathepsin B, is released after aerobic activity to help muscles recover. Researchers isolated it from mice muscle cells in petri dishes then “added a little of the protein to living neurons in other petri dishes. They found that those brain cells started making more proteins related to neurogenesis.”
The study also involved several human volunteers “exercising vigorously” on a treadmill for an hour or more per day, three times a week, for four months. As the amount of cathepsin B in their bloodstream rose, so did their scores on memory tests.
Per the Times:
Most striking, in the human volunteers, the men and women whose fitness had increased the most — suggesting that they had run particularly intensely — not only had the highest levels of cathepsin B in their blood but also the most-improved test scores.
The only bad news: To experience this benefit, you’re going to actually have to work your muscles – so fake-running that marathon is out of the question.