Feeding the brain in a roundabout way helps you think for longer

exercised brain swallowing glycogenThe health gurus love to tell us that it is smart to exercise – touting the heart benefits of a workout.

But, a little physical activity does more than just get the blood pumping round the body, it also feeds the brain – in a roundabout way.

The hungry brain

The brain is a bit of a pig – it needs a lot of energy to function.

Keeping the brain supplied with a continuous supply of energy is a full time job. In fact, a great deal of the body’s wiring is designed to ensure the brain is always supplied with its preferred munchie – glucose.

The feast and famine ritual

Energy supplies fluctuate. Most bodies face times of abundance and times of scarcity.

When supplies of sugar are abundant – “smart” cells avail themselves of the excess sugar. Squirreling away a personal stash to use when times are a bit tough. The form in which these small excesses are stored, is known as glycogen.

This process typically proceeds fat storage. Fat cells are the whole body’s pantry – extra calories are directed here, only once individual cells have stocked up.

The “smart” cells

Busy cells really do need to stock up for rainy days. Prolific “stashers” include muscles and specialized helper cells in the brain, 2known as astrocytes.

Only really busy cells need to store a lot.

So “busy” people – end up being able to store more glycogen.

Exercise develops the storage muscle

Whenever you do some serious exercise, you reach into the cookie jar and use some of the glycogen that is stored.

It actually doesn’t take too long for the supply in muscles to be depleted, but the little stash helps you to get over the hump. The hump happens as the liver makes the switch from neutral to fat burning mode – hopefully ! You need oxygen, lots of it to burn fat !

Although fat has way more energy than sugar, sugar is a lot easier to burn. So busy cells like to maximize the sugar burn. People who exercise regularly end up with bigger glycogen stores.

Glycogen stores improve in brain too

Japanese researchers have discovered – it is not just a muscle thing – glycogen stores also increase in the brain.

The researchers made rats run until they couldn’t.

  • Muscle glycogen levels dropped by 82-90 % following the exercise session. 24 hours later, the muscle cells had replenished the glycogen they had lost and added a little extra.
  • A similar thing happened in the brain. Brain levels dropped by 50 – 64 % and just like the muscle cells, the astrocytes loaded up a little extra, after the exercise session.

The researches found the rats that exercised on a daily basis for a week or two, ended up with much bigger glycogen stores. The extra glycogen stores gave these rats an edge – when pushed they can go a little bit longer.

Thinking big with bigger glycogen supply

Bigger glycogen stores in muscles allow fitter people to outperform couch potatoes , in any physical activity.

Thinking is hard work !

Could bigger glycogen stores in the brain improve mental activity ? Maybe it’s time to add a serious workout to your study schedule.

After all – you are getting graded for physical education.

Brain glycogen supercompensation following exhaustive exercise. The Journal of Physiology (2012) 590(3) :607-616. Takashi Matsui, Taro Ishikawa, Hitoshi Ito, Masahiro Okamoto, Koshiro Inoue, Min-chul Lee, Takahiko Fujikawa, Youkio Ichitani, Kentaro Kawanaka, Hideaki Soya.

To wire up your brain a little each week ………………..

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