Jogging Through the Drive-Thru Window

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With the holidays approaching, a new study by the University of Minnesota, presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans, may offer a surprising benefit for people who want to have their fatty holiday foods and lose weight and stay sharp. Packing on the pounds attacks the waistline and can affect your mental attitude. An article in Forbes on this study, "Can Exercise Protect the Brain From Fatty Foods," reported some findings of interest to healthcare providers who work with individuals who can’t seem to eat just one potato chip or pass up a daily Big Mac with large fries.


Past studies suggested that high-fat diets were bad for the brain. The University of Minnesota study used lab rats to see if exercise had an effect on a high-fat diet. First, the rats were taught to run from one area to another at the sound of a musical tone, giving a baseline for the rats’ ability to learn and remember. Then, half of the rats were fed a regular diet. The other half were fed a diet with 40 percent more fat. Both diets contained the same amount of calories.


After chowing down on their prospective diets for four months, the rats were put through their paces and measured again. The rats that ate the regular diet remembered the process and completed the test about as well as before. The fatty-diet rats, however, did much worse. In the next study phase, half the rats on each diet plan were able to exercise on running wheels. The other half of the rats on each plan continued life as usual.  


For the next seven weeks, the rats were tested for cognitive ability with some interesting observations. The rats eating the high-fat diet continued to do worse on the tests as long as they were not exercising. However, their exercising, high-fat-diet buddies improved their ability to think and remember. After seven weeks, the rats in the group on the high-fat diet with exercise actually regained their former cognitive abilities and were performing as well as they had at the beginning of the study. The study seems to indicate exercise may cancel out the negative cognitive effects of a high-fat diet.


The Minnesota study falls in line with an earlier study presented by a University of Kyoto, Japan research team. This study fed rats a high-fat diet and gave them access to exercise, with similar results. Why this happens is not yet known. But it poses some interesting questions and possibilities for humans. The studies didn’t measure how exercise reversed weight gain, but did show evidence that adding exercise may help the brain stay sharp and improve the ability to think and remember.


This study may prove leaving the car at home isn’t just good for the environment. Instead of drive-thru windows, jogging up to the window at your favorite fast-food restaurant and then taking the long-route home may just help negate guilt associated with over-indulgence. It might keep people awake and mentally sharp during the workday, especially after a pizza-and-hot-wings lunch. Happier people may make better food choices. Promoting exercise to improve mental performance is an interesting option for health care professionals and employers who want to improve the employee productivity and wellness.  


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  • Maureen L
    Maureen L
    Like it!
  • Mary Nestor-Harper
    Mary Nestor-Harper
    Thanks for the comments.  It gives a whole new slant on the value of exercise.  Feel free to pass the article along.
  • Yetters H
    Yetters H
    very cool, thanks for sharing :)
  • shelia r
    shelia r
    thank you for this article. It was very informative and I will take this into consideration.

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