Exercise helps to keep the brain working well, at least in rats. The research conducted at the University of Minnesota involved rats learning a maze. Then half the animals got regular low-fat lab chow, while the other half got the same amount of calories, but with 40% of the calories from fat. Four months later, the rats were retested. Those who had been eating the high-fat fare did not learn anywhere close to as quickly as they had before.
Then the scientists added another wrinkle. The dietary regimen continued as before, but half the animals in each group were given access to an exercise wheel. Another four months elapsed, and the rats were tested once more. The sedentary rats eating a high-fat diet had slipped even further on their cognitive scores. But exercising rats, regardless of their diets, were able to perform just as well as they had at the beginning of the study.
People aren’t rats, and we don’t know if running marathons will protect human brains from the consequences of cheeseburgers and milkshakes. But it would be worth studying.
[Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, Oct, 2012]