For years fitness enthusiasts have suspected that exercise positively affects the brain as well as the body. But while it seemed logical that an active lifestyle would help the brain, the scientific evidence was lacking.
Now several biological studies indicate that working out does benefit the brain.
The reasons to get moving are greater than you think. Now researchers are finding biological evidence that exercise benefits specific brain mechanisms. And, it even contributes to growing new neurons! While we used to think that the brain loses cells as we age, we now know it is not true for those people who keep active and learn new things.
Much of the new research suggests that exercise positively affects the hippocampus, a sea-horse shaped brain structure that is vital for memory and learning.
In one recent study, researchers found that adult mice doubled their number of new brain cells in the hippocampus when they had access to running wheels. The fact that the mammalian adult brain can increase its number of brain cells is surprising in itself. This is good news for aging adults.
It was once thought that the brain stopped producing new brain cells early in its development. And presumably brain power dimmed as cells died over the years.
But in the past decade, researchers have found definitive evidence that the brain continues to generate new brain cells throughout life, even in humans. Studies indicate that challenging environments, which include a number of components, such as pumped-up learning opportunities, social interactions and physical activities, are key to boosting the growth of new brain cells.
What does this mean for humans? We can keep our mental fitness and health by entering into new situations, new games, and new social group activities. And if we can keep learning new things, and engage in physical activities, we can continue growing new brain cells.
We can redefine “senior moments,” if we take advantage of opportunities to learn and move. No more excuses for forgetting things for the older population.