Wired to Run: Why Your Brain Needs Exercise

Jan. 1, 2021

David Raichlen, PhD. is a Professor of Human And Evolutionary Biology at the University of Southern California. His work explores how physical activity drove key aspects of human evolution, helping to explain how and why inactivity underlies many chronic diseases today. Combining aspects of biomechanics, physiology and neuroscience with analysis of movement patterns of ancient humans, his work helps to explain how we can use an evolutionary context to improve modern-day health.

On the podcast today, David talks about the links between human evolution, physical activity, and health across the lifespan. He discusses the impact of exercise on brain health and neurogenesis and explains why an active lifestyle may be critical for those genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease. He also describes the biological mechanism behind the “runner’s high” that suggests humans are “wired to run”.

Here’s the outline of this podcast with David Raichlen:

[00:00:11] Herman Pontzer, PhD; Book: Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Lose Weight, and Stay Healthy (coming out in March 2021).

[00:00:43] Paper: Pontzer, H., B. M. Wood, and David A. Raichlen. "Hunter‐gatherers as models in public health." Obesity Reviews 19 (2018): 24-35.

[00:01:27] Working with Hadza; Brian Wood, PhD, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UCLA.

[00:02:07] Exercise and brain health.

[00:03:24] Neurogenesis.

[00:04:08] Rodents in enriched environments; Study: Kempermann, Gerd, H. Georg Kuhn, and Fred H. Gage. "More hippocampal neurons in adult mice living in an enriched environment." Nature 386.6624 (1997): 493-495.

[00:05:10] Adaptive Capacity model; Paper: Raichlen, David A., and Gene E. Alexander. "Adaptive capacity: an evolutionary neuroscience model linking exercise, cognition, and brain health." Trends in neurosciences 40.7 (2017): 408-421.

[00:10:01] APOE4; Study: Raichlen, David A., and Gene E. Alexander. "Exercise, APOE genotype, and the evolution of the human lifespan." Trends in neurosciences 37.5 (2014): 247-255.

[00:12:20] Study: Trumble, Benjamin C., et al. "Apolipoprotein E4 is associated with improved cognitive function in Amazonian forager‐horticulturalists with a high parasite burden." The FASEB Journal 31.4 (2017): 1508-1515.

[00:13:34] Resistance training.

[00:14:20] Megan Hall; Study: Roberts, Megan N., et al. "A ketogenic diet extends longevity and healthspan in adult mice." Cell metabolism 26.3 (2017): 539-546.

[00:15:18] BDNF upregulation through exercise.

[00:16:28] Podcast: The Postmenopausal Longevity Paradox and the Evolutionary Advantage of Our Grandmothering Life History, with Kristin Hawkes.

[00:17:46] Structural associations of exercise in middle age. Study: Raichlen, David A., et al. "Differential associations of engagement in physical activity and estimated cardiorespiratory fitness with brain volume in middle-aged to older adults." Brain Imaging and Behavior (2019): 1-10.

[00:17:46] Brain connectivity associations among young athletes; Study: Raichlen, David A., et al. "Differences in resting state functional connectivity between young adult endurance athletes and healthy controls." Frontiers in human neuroscience 10 (2016): 610.

[00:21:30] Podcast: Air Pollution Is a Cause of Endothelial Injury, Systemic Inflammation and Cardiovascular Disease, with Arden Pope, PhD.

[00:22:21] Optimal duration and intensity of exercise.

[00:23:38] Types of exercise that are most beneficial.

[00:25:32] Exercise-induced endocannabinoid system.

[00:27:20] Endocannabinoid upregulation following exercise in humans, dogs, and ferrets; Study: Raichlen, David A., et al. "Wired to run: exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling in humans and cursorial mammals with implications for the ‘runner’s high’." Journal of Experimental Biology 215.8 (2012): 1331-1336.

[00:29:11] Self-generated optic flow; Articles: Yilmaz, Melis, and Andrew D. Huberman. "Fear: It’s All in Your Line of Sight." Current Biology 29.23 (2019): R1232-R1234 and González, Anabel, Lucía del Río-Casanova, and Ania Justo-Alonso. "Integrating neurobiology of emotion regulation and trauma therapy: Reflections on EMDR therapy." Reviews in the Neurosciences 28.4 (2017): 431-440.

[00:30:23] Minimizing environmental mismatch.

[00:30:39] Sitting in hunter gatherers; Study: Raichlen, David A., et al. "Sitting, squatting, and the evolutionary biology of human inactivity." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117.13 (2020): 7115-7121.

[00:37:56] Exercise intensity and endocannabinoid signaling; Study: Raichlen, David A., et al. "Exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling is modulated by intensity." European journal of applied physiology 113.4 (2013): 869-875.

[00:41:14] Book: Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping, 3rd Edition, by Robert Sapolsky.

[00:42:40] Scientific American article: Why Your Brain Needs Exercise, by David A. Raichlen and Gene E. Alexander.

[00:43:00] New Scientist article: How changing the way you sit could add years to your life, by Herman Pontzer and David Raichlen.

[00:45:45] Find David at University of Southern California’s Department of Biological Sciences.

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