I’d like to talk about how rodents, relationships, and riding relate to overall health and wellness.
This idea comes from a nicely-written New York Times piece entitled, “Does Loneliness Reduce the Benefits of Exercise?” Here, Gretchen Reynolds reviews a few intriguing studies about how relationships may affect exercise, stress hormone levels, and intelligence. The combo caught my eye.
Anyone who pays attention to wellness knows that exercise produces more flexible arteries, more durable hearts, and leaner body shapes. These benefits are obvious, and honestly, sometimes a bit tiresome to write about.
To me, a far more interesting — and lesser known — benefit of regular exercise is that it might make us smarter. Here’s where the rodents come into the story.
As was summarized in the New York Times piece, when researchers allowed rats and mice access to running wheels they observed (a) that they all ran, and (b) those rats that did run scored better on rodent IQ tests, and actually grew more brain cells. This is a striking finding because nerve cells — unlike blood, GI and skin cells, which turnover rapidly — grow very slowly, if at all.
But that’s not the entire story. The Princeton researchers wanted to know whether the rat’s social relationships could have measurable biologic effects.
It turns out that rodents — like humans — are quite social. So social, in fact, that in these trials the brain-growing effect of exercise was blunted when rodents lived alone. Compared to rats and mice that lived in groups, those that were kept in isolation failed to grow new nerve cells in response to exercise. And importantly, isolated rats produced higher levels of stress hormones than those who lived in groups, even though both groups ran the same distance. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*