New Research Says Exercise Makes Your Brain Stronger, Not Just Your Muscles

And four other things we learned about our bodies this week.


The human body: An inspiring biological work of art? Or a meaty sack of germs and fluids? Either way, there’s still a lot we don’t know about what goes on in there — and scientists are constantly attempting to find out more. Here are the most interesting things they’ve discovered about our bodies in the last seven days:

Exercise Leads to a Sexy Body, Even Sexier Neurons
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Exercise is good for you. Of course you have! It can help you quit smoking. It can boost your ability to recall memories. It can make you less hungry. Needless to say, it’s a cornerstone of making you less fat. The scientific consensus is pretty solid on this one: Exercise rulez.

But a New York Times report this week sheds light on an an aspect of exercise that is less well-known — its effect on the brain. Spoiler alert: It’s real good for it.

To start, physical activity can jump-start what’s known as neurogenesis, i.e., the creation of new neurons, the cells in your brain responsible for processing, transmitting and receiving information. Not only that, these new neurons are bigger, have longer dendrites — basically the cells’ tail thingies that connect it to your brain’s neural network — and more of them. This is good, researchers think, because these supercharged neurons make better connectors than other brain cells, improving things like spatial memory.

They also seem to find their way into areas of the brain most likely to be affected by the ravages of time, perhaps signaling improved protection against issues like memory loss and dementia.

And if you thought that was cool, the effect is almost instantaneous — meaning you don’t need to be a gym nut to reap the benefits. A new study published in Scientific Reports showed that subjects’ brains were creating new neurons in less than a week after starting to work out.

All of this is potentially great news for anyone looking to get off the couch and start developing good exercise habits: If at first you don’t succeed, just keep moving.

Tat’s Clever
You might soon be able to get an adaptable smart tattoo containing your health status right there on your arm — or, if you’re still in college, really small on your ankle.

A Balanced Breakfast Is an Essential Part of Unclogged Arteries
There are two types of people in this world: Those that eat breakfast, and those who don’t. But breakfast-skippers might want to rethink their morning management. That’s because a new study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests that breakfast might actually be the most important meal of the day, at least for your heart. Researchers took a look at 4,052 men and women and found that as much as 75 percent of those who didn’t eat breakfast were at a higher risk for atherosclerosis, a fancy doctor word for plaque-hardened arteries.

This may not make a whole lot of sense when you consider that stuffing your face with a seven-egg omelet might do more harm than skipping the meal completely. But what researchers found was that it wasn’t breakfast that was the problem; it was that not eating breakfast results in hunger, and hunger might cause a person to make bad decisions when deciding what to eat next.

What to do, then? Eating at regular intervals throughout the day helps limit cravings so that you aren’t over-consuming at lunch or dinner, or getting so hungry you opt for an extra-large pizza instead of a normal portion of something healthier.

Nothing Says ‘I Don’t Have Dementia!’ Like the Smell of Old Fish
Of our five senses, smell is often cited as the most powerful — one estimate suggests that human olfactory organs can detect one trillion different scents. That sounds pretty impressive, especially in comparison to this woman who couldn’t tell the difference between a dog and a purse with her eyes.

With this in mind, when your nose starts to go, it can be a little disconcerting. But according to a new study out of the University of Chicago, if you can’t smell peppermint, fish, orange, rose and leather, you’ve got an even bigger problem: You’re twice as likely to develop dementia as the next guy.

Now, if you’re running to the attic to give your old leather bomber jacket a quick sniff, the good news is your chances go down the more items you can smell. The bad news is, not by much. In the five-year study, subjects who couldn’t smell any of the five odors all had dementia already. For subjects who could smell only two out of the five, 80 percent were diagnosed with the disease.

Researchers believe that this study demonstrates that our sense of smell is closely linked to our overall health, particularly the health and functionality of our brains. In fact, when combined with other tests, such as those for vision and mobility, new screening measures for separating those who are high-risk for the disease from those who are low and medium-risk may be close to a reality.

The next time you’re in the supermarket, give that salmon filet a good sniff — it just might save your life.

Stop Vegging Out
In this week’s “no, duh” news, just because you’re vegan doesn’t mean you’re healthy. So stop making me feel bad about eating a burger, mmkay?