Scientists have found that exercise triggers neurogenesis, slowing and even reversing the brain’s physical decay. Neurogenesis is the creation of new brain cells. This is particularly important because as we age, the brain, like all muscles and organs decline with underuse and age. Begining in our late 20’s most of us will lose 1% annually of the volume of the hippocampus, the brain’s center for learning and memory. Let’s not do the math. It’s too depressing. Instead let’s focus on the good news about the brain.
According to a recent New York Times article, “Using sophisticated technologies to examine the workings of individual neurons — and the makeup of brain matter itself — scientists discovered that exercise appears to build a brain that resists physical shrinkage and enhance cognitive flexibility. Exercise, the latest neuroscience suggests, does more to bolster thinking than thinking does.”
Exercise, it appears, reverses physical decay of the brain, much as it does with muscles. Until recently it was generally accepted that humans were born with a certain number of brain cells and would never generate more. We now know better.
According to a landmark comparison study conducted at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, mice that ran for a few weeks ended up with twice as many new neurons in their hippocampi than mice that never got their heart rate up and lolled around in super enriched environments.
Researchers broke the mice up into four groups. One grouped dined on nuts fruits and cheeses. They drank flavored water and slept in beds that were colorful igloos. Group 2 had all these goodies, plus running wheels. Group 3 had no fancy stuff and they received standard kibble. And, the fourth Group had running wheels with no other extra toys or treats. All the mice underwent cognitive tests at the start of the study and their brains were injected with a substance that allows scientists to track changes in brain structure.
Long story short, the mice that exercised actually improved their brainpower. They scored higher on cognitive tests than the other mice. So get on your treadmill and run, baby run.