Running stimulates the growth of new brain cells

Running helps individuals stay physically healthy and improves many individuals’ state of mental health by reducing stress. Research from the Salk Institute proves that running can also enable individuals to grow more new brain cells, when compared to sedentary counterparts.

Researchers divided mice into groups and, for twelve days, gave them a chemical that labels dividing cells.  After the study, “the mice on the move had the most new brain cells, twice as many as mice housed in standard cages,” which did not contain exercise wheels or other physically stimulating toys (Salk Institute).

Salk Professor Fred H. Gage, the study’s senior author, remarked, “The difference was striking. And because we know now that human brains also make new cells, it just might be that running or other vigorous exercise stimulates brain cell production in people as well.”

Gage’s research recently disproved the long-standing neuroscience belief that humans do not gain new brain cells after birth.  His laboratory has shown that “mice raised in what they term ‘enriched environments’ grow more new cells than litter mates housed in standard laboratory cages.”  These enriched environments included numerous variables, including toys, exercise wheels, increased opportunities for social interaction and varied diets.

One postdoctoral fellow in Gage’s laboratory, Henriette van Praag, said, “The present study is an attempt to tease out which type of stimulation is most important.”

The study included a sedentary control group of mice, there were “runners” groups and “swimmers” groups.  The “swimmers” were placed in a shallow pool each day for a brief period.  Additionally, “one of the groups had a learning task to accomplish, which the investigators thought might boost brain cell growth, and the other group simply had ‘free swim’ time.”  Astonishingly, neither group of “swimmers” displayed brain cell numbers comparable to the “runners.”

“We don’t know if it’s the voluntary factor that’s key – that is, the running mice were free to jump on or off the wheel as they liked – or if it’s because the swimmers simply got less exercise,” said Gage.

Gage also noted that learning and completing a specific task may stimulate changes in existing brain cells rather than boosting the development of new ones.  The new cell growth took place in the brain’s hippocampus, which has been linked to learning and memory by many studies.  The mice in the “enriched environments” performed better on learning tests than did their sedentary and swimming counterparts.

Brainjogging changes the brain and increases individuals’ long-term potentiation, or the ability of neurons to be activated synchronously.  Brainjogging also stimulates new neuron growth.  Running, too, as substantiated by the Salk Institute, enables individuals to grow new neurons.  The fact that new cell growth occurs after birth, as proved by Gage’s research, is significant in that individuals do not have to become stagnant in their cognitive development.  Running – and other forms of vigorous exercise – improves one’s cognitive condition.

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