Examination of the effects of swimming exercise on learning in mice
Exercise promotes overall positive benefits on both health and cognition in humans. Studies utilizing rodents that examine the mechanisms behind these positive outcomes have also found overwhelming support for an enhancement of several learning related processes as a result of exercise. The present study set out to compare the effects of 15 days of swimming as a form of exercise to a more established one-month treadmill running protocol. Both forms of exercise were expected to enhance learning when compared to sedentary control animals. Counterbalanced water based (Morris water maze) and land based (Barnes maze) behavioral measures were used to assess learning. Swimming mice performed significantly better than both runners and controls in the Barnes maze, while no difference as a result of treatment was seen in the Morris water maze. However, a robust sex difference was shown in the Morris water maze, such that males outperformed females, regardless of treatment. Along with the implication that the two behavioral tasks used may measure different processes, these results support the literature suggesting a sex difference in spatial learning, while suggesting that swimming is an effective alternate form of exercise to running.