In research published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, scientists at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons present the most definitive evidence to date that the human brain makes new neurons throughout life.
Previous studies of animal brains have led many neuroscientists to conclude that the capacity for neurogenesis, or the production of new neurons, declines with age and virtually ceases in the mature brain. “In mice, researchers have shown that neurogenesis drops pretty dramatically after middle age,” said the study’s lead author Maura Boldrini, MD, PhD, a research scientist in psychiatry and a member of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative. A recent study of human brains was also unable to find new neurons in adult brains.
A neural stem cell in the brain. Image: Maura Boldrini / Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The brain’s hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning, has been a major focus of studies on neurogenesis and stem cell biology. Although neuroimaging studies of humans show that continued growth in this structure occurs in adulthood, many scientists have argued that this represents existing neurons growing larger, or an expansion of blood vessels or other internal support structures, rather than the addition of new neurons. To address the question, investigators dissected and examined a representative sample of human hippocampi from healthy people of different ages after they died. Continue reading
The brain has similar needs to other organs. It needs glucose, oxygen and other nutrients. There are very real concrete benefits to exercising that directly affect the brain.
“I like to say that exercise is like taking a little Prozac or a little Ritalin at just the right moment,” says John J. Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of A User’s Guide to the Brain.
“Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being” according to WebMD.
The benefits of exercise on the brain include the following:
– One of the most exciting changes that exercise causes is neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons. The new neurons are created in the hippocampus, the center of learning and memory in the brain, according to Oregon Health and Science University.
The course I am taking on Optimizing Brain Fitness
cites the following benefits:
– increased blood flow, oxygen and increased capillaries around neurons
– increased production of new neurons and more interconnections between them.
– protection of dopamine neurons from toxins in the environment
– leads to elevations in nerve growth factors.
– affects prefrontal executive processes, preferentially enhanced.
– brings about a positive balance in neurotransmitters just like in anti-depressants.
The Franklin Institute says that walking is especially good, because it increases blood circulation and the oxygen and glucose that reach your brain. Walking is not strenuous, so your leg muscles don’t take up extra oxygen and glucose like they do during other forms of exercise. As you walk, you effectively oxygenate your brain. Maybe this is why walking can “clear your head” and help you to think better.