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Riding a power-assisted bike makes your brain smarter

by Vy Nhat on Jun 08, 2023

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  • Canadian neuroscientist Brian Christie gives his brain a boost every morning. We're not talking about throwing back multiple cups of strong espresso or playing one of the brain games advertised on Facebook. “I cycled, went to the gym for 45 minutes, then cycled the rest of the way to work,” Christie said. "When I get to my desk, my brain is at its peak for a few hours." After his mental focus stalls at the end of the day, he kicks it off with another short spin to run errands.

    Ride, work, ride, repeat. It's a scientifically proven system that offers some of the unexpected benefits of cycling. In a recent study in the Journal of Diagnostic and Clinical Research, scientists found that people who scored higher on tests of memory, reasoning and planning after 30 minutes of rotation on a stationary bike compared to before cycling. They also completed the tests faster after pedaling.

    Grow your mind

    Exercise is like fertilizer for your brain. All those hours of cranking your crank have created rich capillary beds not only in your muscles and buttocks but also in your gray matter. More blood vessels in your brain and muscles means more oxygen and nutrients to help them function, says Christie's.

    When you pedal, you also force more neurons to work. When these neurons light up, they ramp up production of proteins like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and a compound called noggin (yes, really), that promote formation new brain cells. The result: You double or triple the production of neurons — literally building your brain, Christie says. You also release neurotransmitters (messengers between your brain cells) so all those cells, new and old, can communicate with each other to work better, faster. That's a pretty profound benefit for power-assisted cyclists.

    This type of growth is especially important with each passing birthday, because as we age, our brains shrink and those connections weaken. Arthur Kramer, PhD, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says exercise restores and protects the organ. "Our study found that after just three months, people who exercised had three years younger brain volume," Kramer said, referring to a study that examined the brains of 59 subjects. sedentary volunteers between the ages of 60 and 79 who had been on an exercise or inactive program for six months.

    A bigger, more connected brain simply works better. “Adults who exercised show more acute memory skills, higher levels of concentration, more flexible thinking, and better problem-solving abilities than sedentary adults,” says Kramer.

    Follow your path smarter

    So if a little exercise boosts your mental acuity, will it take you longer and harder to be a Mensa member? Christie said not so much. More is not always better, especially in the short term, he said. The same study that reported brain benefits from a short session of exercise also revealed that more intense exertion can temporarily affect memory and information processing, something Christie did. witness.

    Christie's teenage daughter also starts her day with exercise — specifically, rowing, often with interval sets. But instead of letting her brain work on all the pillars, the training stalls her a bit when she gets to school. “In the short term, you are on a U-shaped curve for exercise and mental health,” says Christie. "Too little and your brain isn't getting what it needs to function optimally. Too much and your body has consumed up all the glucose and other resources it needs, so it's stuck until it's too late. it recovers." The best score for mental acuity right after exercise is about 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise at about 75 percent of your maximum heart rate, or an effort of 7 on a scale of 1 (standing still) to 10 (extremely) .

    Positive Spin

    Of course, there's a lot more to mental training than just improving your intelligence. Much science supports the idea that a good trip can also be mentally beneficial. Cycling can improve your mood, reduce anxiety, increase resistance to stress, and even dispel sadness.

    “Exercise is just as effective as psychotherapy and medication,” says James Blumenthal, PhD, professor of behavioral medicine in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Antidepressants in the treatment of depression. A recent study analyzing 26 years of research found that even just some exercise — as little as 20 to 30 minutes a day — can prevent depression in the long run.

    Currently, scientists don't fully understand the exact mechanism, but they do know that one of the benefits of cycling is that it promotes the production of feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. . J. David Glass, PhD, a brain chemistry researcher at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, said: “As soon as the mice in our lab started running on their wheels, they will increase serotonin levels by 100 to 200%.”

    Once you get past the 20 to 30 minute mark, other mood-boosting chemicals like endorphins and cannabinoids (as the name suggests, are in the same family of chemicals that help smokers thrive). When researchers asked 24 men to run or cycle at a moderate intensity or sit for about 50 minutes, they found that levels of anandamide, a natural cannabinoid in the blood, were high in those who exercised, but not in those who exercised. sedentary volunteers.

    Even better, cycling regularly helps control hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which means you'll feel less stressed and it'll be easier for you to get out of an anxious situation.

    The key to improving your mental health immediately after exercise is about 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise at about 75% of your maximum heart rate.

    Remember: While it's healthy, exercise itself is stressful, especially when you're just starting or returning to horseback riding. When you first start exerting yourself, your body releases cortisol to raise your heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar, says Monika Fleshner, PhD, a professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Once you start tuning, it takes a longer, harder time to trigger the same feedback. “For active people, it takes a greater crunch to trigger the cortisol response than for sedentary people,” says Fleshner. "So now you can step into a stressful environment and be okay. You can endure a lot more before you start to react to stress."

    What is the prescription for happiness? The authors of a recent review of exercise and depression offered the following guidelines for avoiding sadness with aerobic exercise: Do it three to five times a week. Each session should be 45 to 60 minutes long and keep your heart rate between 50 and 85 percent of maximum. Of course, that's just a minimal recommendation aimed at the general public. You can go ahead and get to the content of your heart — and mind — of you.