Diet and exercise when young affects brain size and anxiety when older

Healthy habits around diet and exercise are a good idea no matter how old we might be, but a new study has emphasized the importance of forming them early in life. Scientists have used mouse models to demonstrate how a combination of healthy eating and physical activity during childhood can have benefits that last long into adulthood, including an increase in brain mass and lower levels of anxiety.

The research was carried out by scientists at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), who back in February published a study detailing how a poor diet in childhood can lead to long-lasting alterations to the gut microbiome, even after switching to a healthier diet. This new study follows a similar theme, but investigates the impacts of childhood diet in combination with exercise on our health later in life.

“Any time you go to the doctor with concerns about your weight, almost without fail, they recommend you exercise and eat less,” says study lead Marcell Cadney. “That’s why it’s surprising most studies only look at diet or exercise separately. In this study, we wanted to include both.”

The study is described as the first to explore the long-lasting effects of diet and exercise combined, and involved young mice being separated into four different groups. Some were made to exercise, others were given no access to exercise, others were fed a healthy diet and others were placed on Western-style diets that were high in fat and sugar.

The young mice followed their allotted regimens for three weeks until they reached sexual maturity. All mice were then given a “washout” period, where they weren’t given access to exercise wheels and were placed on healthy diets, after which the scientists conducted their assessments. This included measuring the rodents’ aerobic capacity, behavioral analysis and looking at levels of several hormones.

This demonstrated that regular exercise and healthy eating early in life led to increased muscle and brain mass in the adult mice, with these rodents also exhibiting less anxious behaviors. The researchers note that exercise early in life, regardless of diet, also led to an increase in concentrations of leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells that regulates appetite and fat storage, in the adult mice.

“Our findings may be relevant for understanding the potential effects of activity reductions and dietary changes associated with obesity,” says UCR evolutionary physiologist Theodore Garland.

The research was published in the journal Physiology and Behavior.

Source: University of California, Riverside

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