Born to Run — On a Wheel

A fascinating new study indicates that wild mice were born to run — on an exercise wheel — just for the pure joy of it. Johanna Meijer and Yuri Robbers showed that running on an exercise wheel appeals to mice in the wild just as much as it does to lab mice in a cage.

The study is worth noting for two reasons:

  • It suggests that wheel running is not a neurotic reaction to living in a cage.
  • It illustrates the biological rewards of physical activity.

Commenting on the study, Huda Akil, an neuroscience expert on reward systems, says, “It’s not a surprise. All  you have to do is watch a bunch of little kids in a playground or a park. They run and run and run.”

Meijer and Robbers placed exercise wheels in the wild, protected by small enclosures and monitored with motion sensors to activate video recorders. Wild mice sought out the wheels and behaved as though wheel running was intrinsically rewarding for them.

Said Meijer, ““When I saw the first mice, I was extremely happy. I had to laugh about the results, but at the same time, I take it very seriously. It’s funny, and it’s important at the same time.”

Both these mice and these researchers are onto something.

Click here to read more in Science and here to read the study.

Mouse on a Wheel, photograph © Pehpsii Altemark / flickr

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