People dancing Zumba.

Animal experiments raise the prospect that plasma donations from Zumba devotees (pictured) could strengthen the brains of inactive individuals. Credit: Getty

Neurodegeneration

Blood from fit mice bestows brain benefits of exercise

Workouts rejuvenate the brains of old mice — but so does plasma from well-conditioned rodents.

Exercise is key to good health, but hitting the treadmill might not be necessary for healthy ageing. Researchers have found that giving sedentary mice blood from active mice can confer the same cognitive benefits as regular exercise.

Saul Villeda at the University of California, San Francisco, and his colleagues gave old mice access to exercise equipment for six weeks. The team analysed the animals’ brains and cognitive skills, as well as those of aged, inactive mice, including some that had received blood plasma from the active mice. Both exercise and plasma transfer improved the old rodents’ cognitive function and induced the formation of new neurons in a brain region involved in learning and memory.

The researchers identified a protein abundant in the liver, called GPLD1, that could be responsible for plasma transfer’s rejuvenating effects. Exercise increased blood levels of GPLD1 in both adult mice and elderly people, and enhancing the production of GPLD1 in the liver of sedentary mice boosted their scores on memory and learning tests.

The findings suggest that the benefits of exercise can be transferred through circulating blood factors, the researchers say.