By working your muscles with a run, you could jump-start changes in the brain that expand your memory and ability to learn, says a new National Institutes of Health study reported by Gretchen Reynolds in The New York Times.

When you exercise or run, your muscles contract, burn fuel and pump out proteins and other substances. The study – conducted on people, mice and monkeys – found that some of the substances pumped out actually move through the bloodstream to the brain, where they help with brain health.

In the study, researchers zeroed in on one protein, cathepsin B, which helps sore muscles recover and clears away cellular debris. And when cathepsin B rose in the study’s subjects who were jogging and moving regularly, they began to perform better on tests of memory and thinking.

“The lesson of these experiments is that our brains appear to function better when they are awash in cathepsin B and we make more cathepsin B when we exercise,” Henriette van Praag, an investigator at the National Institute on Aging at the N.I.H., told Reynolds.

Praag says, “There is good reason to think that any amount of exercise is going to be better than none [for brain health].”