There has been a long running belief that your body never produces new brain cells. This has been disproved. The brain does create new brain cells. There was a study done recently with mice to see how exercise impacted memory. The research was conducted by Fred Gage of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif.
Gage and his colleagues allowed a group of old mice and a group of young mice to exercise on a running wheel as much as they wanted. The mice ran about 2 miles every day. The researchers also kept a third group of older mice that didn’t exercise. After a month of the regular exercise, the team subjected the mice to a memory test.
The researchers taught the mice to find a platform submerged in a pool of water. After the mice had learned the location of the platform, they had to find it even when it was hidden in cloudy water.
The Salk team found that the old mice that had worked out on the wheel performed as well as the young mice: The elderly mice remembered the location of the platform and swam quickly to the spot without much trouble.
In contrast, the older mice that didn’t get the daily workouts flunked: These mice, much like older people who are starting to show declines in memory, had trouble remembering the location of the platform. In most cases, the mice swam aimlessly in the pool and never found the platform or found it by chance, Gage says.
(from USA Today Sept 21, 2005)
If exercise has the same impact on humans it would suggest that you can increase the quantity of new brain cells in your brain in a way that will improve your memory. Exercise has many other benefits as well. It can help relieve stress, extend your life span, increase your ability to concentrate, and help you rest better.
Most people say that they don’t exercise because they don’t have time. If exercise makes you more effective, it is possible that they don’t have time because they don’t exercise. Success comes from deliberately investing in yourself. Exercise is one of those investments where the benefits in terms of making you productive are greater than the cost in time.
Originally published on November 8, 2005.
Haha, this is awesome! One more reason to exercise ;)
Another reason to get off my duff. I’ve been looking at my “ideal life”, and it always includes exercise. But my “real life” doesn’t…because I don’t find time. I somehow have to get motivated and start this as a habit. More and more evidence shows that I simply can’t exercise and hope to remain healthy.
Eh… from what you quoted, there’s no evidence in this research that the mice, old or young, were producing *new* neurons in response to exercise.
I don’t remember if it’s true that the brain can’t make new cells (as I recall, in depends on the type of brain cell – ‘brain cell’ is kind of catch-all term, and there are many different types), but what is more likely happening here is that exercise is improving blood flow to the brain, which is what the neurons feed on (remember your little cell respiration chart from high school bio?), so they’re performing like carbed-up marathoners. This increase of blood flow probably also helped the brain to produce new connections between neurons, which is where memory really “lives.”
I won’t argue, exercise is a great thing. There’s a great deal of research showing that exercise improves memory in humans, too. But it’s about blood flow and the number of neuronal connections, not the number of brain cells.
Mark Shead says
@Lise – There was more to the article and the studies (if I remember correctly) were done in context of trying to determine if neurons regrow.