The Scroll: Rats on a Wheel

Now, don’t go saying I think we are rats. Definitely not that we are rats caught in a maze, running on a treadmill, and stupid to boot.

But there is this interesting study about the effect of exercise on rat intelligence that may be useful to us.

Dr. Susan Alexander

Dr. Susan Alexander

In this study, the rats could avoid a mild but uncomfortable electric shock by moving to the other side of their cages. Okay, I really feel sorry for the rats. But moving to the other side of the cage isn’t rocket science, and all the rats eventually figured it out.

The good part for you regular users of the AARC is that the more exercise rats got, the faster they figured out how to avoid the shock.

Don’t fall off your treadmills, but there is even better news for exercisers.

The experimenters, AKA brutal electroshock sadists if you do happen to be a rat, gave some rats regular rat diets and other rats high-fat diets. The high-fat rats deteriorated intellectually – they were slower to move to the safe side of the cage.

Here comes the good news – high-fat rats that ran the treadmill more were faster to recover their smarts and eliminate the shocks. So, if you have a yen for late-night pizza or curly fries, hit that treadmill.

Better yet, of course, is a low-fat diet with a lot of exercise. That is Dr. Susan’s recommendation as you head into that next big test, but if you can’t avoid the cheese, at least break up your studying with some healthy physical activity.

If I had done that when I was taking biology, I probably would be able to explain the intricacies of the hippocampus versus the formation of new neurons and synapses, and we would understand exactly why exercise aids intellect. I was such a sloth then that it’s a miracle I don’t think the hippocampus is zoo school for large mammals. I was on the verge of calling the hippocampus an ungulate, but remembered just in the nick of time that the river horse has webbed feet, not hooves. (Maybe I didn’t eat too many fatty foods back in college after all.)