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The William Harvey Research Institute - Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Data strongly suggests that the brain controls exercise capacity

A joint study by researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), University College London (UCL) and the University of Bristol suggests that the brain controls exercise capacity, a highly novel idea with ramifications for health in the general population as well as elite athletes.

Data suggests that the brain controls exercise capacity

The study, published in Nature Communications, used human models to determine vagus health and non-human models where novel neuroscience techniques were used to activate or inhibit the activity of the vagus nerve.

Dr Gareth Ackland from QMUL’s William Harvey Research Institute said: “Previously, activity of the vagus nerve was deemed to just reflect how fit people were. This study suggests however that the vagus nerve controls fitness, rather than just being a marker.

“Because it demonstrates a new measure of how fit we are, and shows that a range of diseases implicating reduced vagus nerve activity may specifically benefit from exercise. The technology we used is also the first demonstration that remote control of nerves may improve exercise performance.” 

Further information 

Research paper: ‘Vagal determinants of exercise capacity', by Ackland G, et al. Nature Communications.



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