We have dad’s hair, mom’s smile, grandmother’s body when she was younger, and be very careful with salt because there is a history of cardiovascular disease in our family. The study of genetics It has served to make these kinds of assumptions today. Some, with more or less skill than others. And so, to believe that he has taken the intelligence of his “uncle” the scientist or the reading mother of him would not be entirely true. As a new study reveals, he could have gotten it from her father… the jock.
This innovative work led by a team of Spanish researchers brings good news for the children of parents who practiced moderate sport before his arrival in the world. They could have a brain in better cognitive conditions, according to a study study conducted on mice. “Sometimes genetic research also brings joy,” celebrates jose louis trejothe director of this work, as well as the Adult Individual Neurogenesis Group of the Cajal Institute, which belongs to the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC).
This renowned researcher has spent years studying the role of various hormones both in the generation of neurons and in the formation of the part of the brain known as the hippocampus in adult brains. Specifically, the group he directs focuses its research on the role that these new neurons play in memory and their possible use in therapies to treat illnesses or states of physical and emotional stress.
In this sense, the researcher affirms that neuroscience has already tested hypotheses such as that stress is inherited. “The children – and even the grandchildren – of those who suffered famines and war may continue to feel the damage of these traumatic experiences,” he says.
This does not mean that a genetic change has been made in that family, but that it is an epigenetic factor. What does that mean? Well, in the words of the researcher: “Genes are like a book: even if the pages do not change, you may be paying more attention to some pages, or giving more intonation to others.” That intonation or focus are conditions of the gene without being part of it. Traumas would make us tend to turn to the darkest pages of this genetic book. Moderate physical exercise would have the opposite effect.
New neurons, more memory
We have known for decades that our bodily activity has a positive effect on our neurons. More recently, it has been discovered that new neuron creation continues in adult individuals, and particularly in the area of the brain known as the hippocampus. “That the increase in neurons in this area of the brain can be inherited is a singularly important fact.because it is the hippocampal neurons that are associated with conditions such as depression or anxiety,” explains Trejo.
It is also this area of the brain that is in charge of memorization, with which it has a crucial role in learning and in the lasting retention in memory of what we learn. It is also the hippocampus that is in charge of orienting us spatially, so we could say that an athlete father will help us park the car better.
Effects on depression
This neurogenesis or birth of neurons is a direct consequence of exercise and has an effect on depression. According to the studies of the Cajal Institute, the virtues would go beyond our own organism, improving the quality of life of our descendants.
In order to prove this inherited benefit, it has been necessary to have some mice with a moderate exercise plan and with some descendants without physical activity, so that it is clear that their better mental functioning is entirely due to that previous exercise of the parent mouse.
The offspring of sedentary mice have been compared with those of those who exercised, but previously sedentary mice have also been given an exercise regimen, which later became parents again. Also in this case the same benefit was observed for pups.
For the moment, the study has focused on the parents, detecting that the mice that had a lifestyle that included some moderate exercise patterns transmitted this epigenetic improvement to their descendants through the sperm.
In the future, it is expected that the possible transmission of these epigenetic conditioning factors from the mother to her daughters and sons will also be explored. It is also planned to study further if the effects reach beyond that first generation and, if so, how strong are the benefits to the grandchildren of active mice.
More exercise does not equal more health
Another important conclusion of the study directed by Trejo is that the benefits of exercise for the body do not rise exponentially. More sport does not mean more health, at least in what refers to the effects of this practice for our brain. It’s not just that you’re not going to keep improving, it’s going to have negative consequences.
“Unlike what happens with the heart muscle, for example, that the more exercise you do, the better, until there comes a time when, no matter how much more you do, it will not improve, with the brain: in the brain there is a turning point that if you continue to exercise you begin to lose the effects of stressbecause cortisol rises in your blood and what you are gaining on one hand you lose on the other,” he points out.
According to the description of the Cajal Institute researcher, it is as if the different epigenetic factors “competed with each other”. The benefits of sport would be on one side of the scale, while the mental stress of over-exercising would be on the other. The objective, points out the CSIC note, should be balance. The halfway point that allows our brain to get the most out of the exercise, improving our brain activity and that of our descendants.
The best way to exercise
Is it possible to know what is that optimal point that we should not exceed? According to Trejo, yes it is. Specifically, there are two methods to find out. One is with the measurement of the blood lactate threshold, which would mark when that inflection point arrives that causes the effects of exercise on the brain to be negative. At the moment, it is not a viable methodology for most athletes. Another simpler method is the measurement -through a professional- of your heart rate and that marks an intensity curve that should not be exceeded.
Trejo also has some general advice for people who want to stay in shape: don’t look for generic exercise (or diet) plans, but look for your own threshold and regulate physical activity according to this data, also taking into account that it will vary as the person becomes more fit. This would also apply to diet.
The study has been the result of collaboration between the Cajal Institute and the National Center for Biotechnology, also from the CSIC, as well as the National Center for Genomic Analysis, the National Institute of Agricultural and Food Technology, the University of Valencia, the University of Seville, and the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.