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Surprising Science

Exercise Yields Bigger Brains

According to a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE, bigger brains may have trickled through evolution's passageway not because of reason and intellect, but due to exercise.

What’s the Latest Development?


A team of anthropologists has found that animals with greater physical endurance also have larger brains. To study the correlation between endurance capacity and brain size, the anthropologists measured 29 species’ cranial capacity and maximal metabolic rate, a measurement of an animal’s upper limit for aerobic exercise. The researchers found “that a larger brain size independently predicted how well the animal would rate on the athletic endurance scale.”

What’s the Big Idea?

While a difintive cause and effect relationship between endurance capacity and brain size has not been found, the correlation may be a result of chemical messengers that are released during exercise which promote growth and reorganization in the brain. However, there is a large caveat to the study: It’s conclusions do not apply to humans nor were primates among the 29 species studied. “In other words,” says University of Arizona anthropologist David Raichlen, “comparing humans to other non-primate species may be skipping too many evolutionary steps.”


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