Creating new brain cells was previously thought to be impossible in humans, but not any more. And you don’t need to have an injection of stem cells into your brain to do it, either.
As you may know, stem cells are your body’s basic building blocks, used for repair and growth. And when it comes to your brain, stem cells turn into new neurons or brain cells. These brainy stem cells then produce a chemical that protects other brain cells, even damaged ones, from deteriorating.
And recent research reveals that they can reverse memory loss, as well as help restore brain function in humans suffering from a wide range of diseases that impair memory, including Alzheimer’s.1
So why then do I say that stem cell research is irrelevant?
Well, while it’s been known that creating new brain cells (neurogenesis) was possible in animals such as rats, mice, and canaries, in an elegant new research study at Columbia University, Scott Small, M.D. unveiled the first proof that exercise creates new cells in the exact brain area that is affected by age-related memory loss.2
Previous research has shown that people who exercise do better on memory tests. And it’s also true that, when you exercise, you experience an endorphin high and feel great. Moreover, you increase your brain’s blood supply and create a compound called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, that induces nerve cells to grow, branch out, and make connections with one another — all signs of an ageless brain.3
This groundbreaking study, however, explains specifically what exercise does within the brain. Exercise, it was revealed, targets a region of the brain within your memory center known as the dendate gyrus, which underlies age-related memory decline. Exercise increases blood flow to this all-important anatomical area and grows new brain cells. Exercise transforms stem cells into fully-grown, functional neurons right where they’re needed most.4
And the best news? You don’t have to run marathons or be an Olympic weight lifter to derive the benefits of developing higher levels of brain power. Here’s all you need to do:5
- Exercise at least three times a week.
- Pick something you enjoy and stick with it. Perhaps you like tennis.
- Hill training, brisk walking, cycling, or exercising on an elliptical trainer or treadmill are all fine provided they’re done for 30 minutes or more.
- Finally, don’t forget about body-weight exercises or other resistance work, done in combination with your aerobic conditioning.
Exercise does more than build muscles and help prevent heart disease and keep you trim. This new science suggests that it also boosts your brain power — and may offer help in the battle against Alzheimer’s.
- Cage, FH, Science, 287 (5457): 1433-1438, 2000.
- Pereira A, et al. Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, vol 14, no 13, March 27, 2007; 5638-5643.
- Singh-Manoux A, et al. Am J Public Health, 2005; 95 (12): 2252-2258.
- Van Pragg H, Gage FH, Nature Neuroscience,1999; 96(3): 266-270.
- Friedland RP, et al. PNAS, 2001; 98(6): 3440-3445.