|New experiments conducted on adult mice suggest that vigorous
exercise may stimulate brain cell production. Scientists at the Salk Institute for
Biological Studies in San Diego have discovered that certain forms of physical exercise
promoted the growth of new neurons and prolonged the survival of existing brain cells.
The study was published in Nature Neuroscience.
These surprising changes took place in
the hippocampus, a small part of the brain involved in learning and memory. The Salk
researchers found that adult regularly exercising on a running wheel developed twice as
many new brain cells as mice housed in standard cages. The mice ran at their own
pace and for as long as they liked.
Said neuro-biologist Fred H.
Gage, senior author of the Salk study says, "Because we know now that human brain
also make new cells, it jus might be that running or other vigorous exercise stimulates
brain cell production in people as well".
The scientists do not know why
running should have positive effect on neural development. Gage speculated that
running may increase the flow of oxygen and nutrients to brain tissues or release special
growth factors that promote new neurons. Or it may be that the primordial biology of
running prompts nervous system to prepare for an onslaught of new information just as an
animal navigates strange terrain while pursuing prey of fleeing from enemies.
In those situations, several
experts commented, the brain respond reflexively to running by expanding its store of
neurons in anticipation of new learning.
Armand Tecco, M.Ed.
Date published: April 16th, 1999