We all know that exercise is universally good for you—from an increase in energy to better sleep routines, doctors have been impressing the importance of personal training routines for ions.
However, whether you’ve been hitting every Instagram workout under the sun or you’re subscribing to the notion of Netflix and chill, new research from Assistant Project Scientist Hui-quan Li and Distinguished Professor Nick Spitzer of the University of California San Diego might inspire you to foster a new habit in quarantine: running on the treadmill.
According to Li and Spitzer, running on a treadmill, or performing another sustained aerobic exercise—like dancing or kickboxing—on a regular basis might actually enhance motor skill-based learning.
When comparing the brains of mice that exercised versus those who did not, Li and Spitzer found that specific neurons switched their chemical signals (neurotransmitters), after exercising, which led to improved learning for motor skill-specific acquisition.
While physical exercise is proven to promote motor skill learning in normal individuals as well as those with neurological disorders, the mechanism of action is unclear. The study found that that one just week of voluntary wheel running enhances the acquisition of motor skills in normal adult mice. Voluntary being the keyword here.
When Li and Spitzer examined the brains of the running mice, they found a group of neurons in the brain known as the caudal pedunculopontine nucleus (cPPN), which regulates coordination, had switched neurotransmitters from acetylcholine to GABA, which in turn “provides feedback control regulating motor coordination and skill learning” or in other words, makes it a whole lot easier for anyone to pick up new movement outcomes or physical-based skills.
“This study provides new insight into how we get good at things that require motor skills and provides information about how these skills are actually learned,” said Spitzer, the Atkinson Family Chair in the Biological Sciences Section of Neurobiology and a director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, in a statement.
Li suggests that the results from the study further emphasizes the importance of creating a healthy relationship with exercise, even if you’re at home and sheltering in place and prefer picking up more adventure-based exercises.
“This study shows that it’s good for the brain to add more plasticity,” Li added. “For people who would like to enhance their motor skill learning, it may be useful to do some exercise to promote this form of plasticity to benefit the brain. For example, if you hope to learn and enjoy challenging sports such as surfing or rock climbing when we’re no longer sheltering at home, it can be good to routinely run on a treadmill or maintain a yoga practice at home now.”
But what does this mean for those of us who are uncoordinated or physically unable to work out on a regular basis? According to Spitzer, these findings might come as a source of hope. “With an understanding of this mechanism comes the opportunity to manipulate and to harness it for further beneficial purposes. In the injured or deceased individual, it could be a way of turning things around… to give the nervous system a further boost.”