Rats! How Inactivity Changes the Brain
A number of studies have shown that exercise can rewire the brain for the better. Now it appears that inactivity, too, can remodel the brain according to a recent study conducted by Scientists at Wayne State University School of Medicine. Using rats, scientists tested the effects of activity on the brain by separating half of them in cages with running wheels, allowing them to run naturally.
Rats are active little animals, and the effects of natural activity demonstrated a significant difference in brain structure from the rats who didn’t run. After nearly three months of resting or running, the animals were injected with a dye that scientists used to observe specific neurons in the rostral ventrolateral medulla. This area of the brain controls the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which among other things controls blood pressure and blood-vessel constriction.
The results of the study demonstrated a clear difference between the sedentary and active rats. After only 12 weeks, the rats who rested as opposed to ran had brains wired for “over-activity of the sympathetic nervous system.” A well-regulated sympathetic nervous system correctly directs blood vessels to widen or contract as needed and blood to flow healthily, so that you can regulate blood pressure normally or quickly in cases of fight-or-flight. “But an overly responsive sympathetic nervous system is problematic,” said Patrick Mueller, associate professor of physiology at Wayne State University. He added that “Recent science shows that contributes to cardiovascular disease,” which means that not only is the brain changing, but it has serious implications about heart disease.
The message seems clear: for a healthy heart and brain, keep your tail moving, your whiskers clean, and never take a good wheel for granted.