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Stimulants are the first choice for treating ADHD. But we also know that exercise helps to improve concentration.

We know that both stimulants and exercise increase bloodflow to muscles and to the brain by activating the sympathetic nervous system. Is this is the MAIN cause of the effect of improved concentration, rather than, say, specific activation of parts of the brain responsible for learning or planning or something similar?

What I'm asking is, do drugs and exercise have different effects on the brain, what are the differences, and what are the consequences of these differences on concentration and learning? Which is more effective for promoting concentration and why?

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exercise stimulates brain regions that are involved in memory function to release a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is a protein that helps in the survival of neurons and promotes the growth of new neurons. BDNF rewires memory circuits so they work better.

Memory enhancers or smart drugs or Nootropics as they are called help in improving the efficiency of neurotransmitters and its associated receptors in cognitive function. Three systems that are stimulated by these drugs which I could find are:

1) Cholineric System

2) Glutamatergic System

3) Dopaminergic & Serotonergic Systems

You can read about about them here along with links to published articles on their effects. Details of different nootropic drugs are mentioned in this article along with their effects.

Of course naturally improving concentration would be the way to go considering the hazards of long term use of drugs. Some links to the side effects are this and this

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Thanks but can you give a quantitative comparison for example, by how much does exercise improve working memory capacity compared to modafinil? By cholineric do you mean cholinergic? I'd vote you up if I could. –  user2108462 May 24 at 7:23
    
Cholinergic is the abbreviated term for acetylcholine which is in fact the primary component of the cholineric system so you can say that both of them are basically the same thing.. Sadly, as of now, I cant find a published paper on comparing smart drugs with exercise. I would suggest you read papers on how much exercise improves cognitive function like this one (dev.europepmc.org/abstract/MED/17414812/…), read a paper on how modafinil affects cognitive function (link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-002-1250-8) and form a comparision. –  The Last Word May 24 at 8:52

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