Thrust your feet into your sneakers, tie your laces and get yourself on the treadmill – run! Run so that your muscles produce the protein, cathepsin B (CTSB), to boost your memory. This interesting phenomenon was recently found by neuroscientist Henriette van Praag, of the National Institute on Aging, United States.

While there is a glut of brain-boosting programs and smartphone apps, nothing outdoes physical activity and exercise since it beefs up your brain. Decades of research in animals and humans prove that engaging in regular physical activity leads to improved cognition, better physical health, and a buildup of immunity against a myriad of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart diseases and various cancers.

Art Kramer, a researcher at University of Illinois, United States, believes that physical activity deeply impacts our brain’s ability to remember things, “Studies of animals and people show an association between physical activity and improved cognitive performance across the lifespan. According to recent human studies, even people who hold off on regular aerobic activity until later in life may still be able to gain from exercise in their senior years.”

The study in question was published in the journal Cell Metabolism, where Dr Praag and team, fully aware of the effectiveness of exercise and its bearing on the brain, decided to cast a wider net and study the proteins secreted by muscles during running. Since peripheral processes that confer beneficial effects on brain have rarely been studied, the researchers first studied the skeletal muscle culture cells in a conditioned medium and found them rich in CTSB. This observation tipped them off to further their investigation in mice.

The scientists randomized the mice into two groups; one spending time on exercise wheels, the other remaining sedentary. They observed that the more time the mice spent on the wheel, the higher the level of proteins they would produce. When the proteins, i.e.,cathepsin B, were applied to the brain, they triggered the production of neurons, in a process called neurogenesis.

Moving forward, the scientists investigated whether cathepsin B has a short- or long-term effect on memory. Mice in both groups, i.e., having and lacking the ability to produce the protein, were given a daily swim test in a Morris water maze for over a week. Within a few days, the normal mice, i.e., those producing cathepsin B, were able to quickly locate the destination, i.e., the hidden platform in the water maze. Not just that, mice were also able to recall the destination each time they were made to swim in the maze. On the other hand, the sedentary mice lacked both the memory protein as well as the ability to remember the destination.

Cathepsin B, or CTSB, is an enzymatic protein that is coded by the CTSB gene. It belongs to the peptidase family. Once produced, it is stored in the lysosomes in the cell membrane where it plays a number of roles in maintaining the normal metabolism of cells. It may also be involved in other physiological processes such as activation of hormones, processing of antigens in immune response and bone turnover. There is also evidence that higher levels of CTSB herald the presence of diseases in the body, such as tumor, inflammation, cancer and pancreatitis.

While it has been proven time and again that regular physical activity and exercise are the foundation upon which physical and mental health is built, most Americans choose being couch potatoes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 21% (one in five) of Americans meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines. Less than 3 in 10 high school students exercise 60 minutes a day. Compared to women and elderly, men and younger adults are more likely to follow guidelines for physical activity, i.e., 46% vs 54%.

Although intriguing this study hasn’t been the first to touch the mental health benefits of exercise. The link between exercise and mood is undeniably strong. We all know that going running after having a stressful day is an instant mood-lifter.

Mental-health therapists are strong proponents of exercise. A study conducted at the University of British Columbia, found that regular aerobic exercise, i.e., jogging, swimming, cycling, dancing etc., increases the size of hippocampus – the area of the brain involved in learning and memory. Interestingly, other exercises, such as resistance training, muscle toning and balance exercises, have a negligible effect on memory.

Ready to start running from today? You’d better, for your memory’s sake!