Exercise really is one of the best things you can do in your life.
It’s kind of like the Frank’s RedHot sauce of condiments. Remember their tagline?
Or if you’re more of a movie buff than a chef maybe Windex is a better example.
Because we’re aware of many of the benefits of exercise including increased/improved:
- mental health
- immune function
- bone & joint health
- weight management
- academic performance
And this is really preaching to the choir because as a reader of this blog, and possibly subscriber of our newsletter, you already live an active life for the reasons listed above.
But did you consider one of your reasons for increased fitness to be so that you would have improved motor skills?
In other words, is there a physical task you were looking to improve and thought the way you would get better would be by increasing your fitness?
If you hadn’t thought that way don’t worry you’re not alone. Not many people had. And new research published this months is among the first evidence to show this.
The study looked at how running fitness improved motor learning. More specifically the researchers wanted to know what was the mechanism that allowed for better movement.
Here’s what they did.
The had mice run daily on a wheel for a week. And then they measured how the mice on the time to cross a balance beam and their performance on a rotarod measuring speed when they fell off. Below are the results comparing the the mice that ran versus the controls that didn’t.
We can see that the mice that ran were able to cross the beam in less time and attain higher speeds when they fell off the rotarod.
So what do they believe accounted for this improvement in motor skill?
There is a switching in neurotransmitters that occurs in the neurons. Specifically there is a switching from acetylcholine (ACh) to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). With one week of running on the treadmill researchers noticed a switching of these neurotransmitters in the caudal pedunculopontine nucleus (cPPN). When researchers blocked this switching of neurotransmitters no improvement in motor learning was observed.
The effects from one week of running lasted for 2 weeks but were lost by the fourth week.
If you’re someone with two left feet on the dance floor or want to try a new sport this year improve your fitness first to enhance your motor learning.
See the citation below if you’d like to check out the study for yourself.
Li, H. Q., & Spitzer, N. C. (2020). Exercise enhances motor skill learning by neurotransmitter switching in the adult midbrain. Nature Communications, 11(1), 1-13.