Body Age Buster
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Body Age Buster

Latest Research Confirms Your Brain Regenerates — and Exercise Helps

With exercise, you can maintain and improve your cognitive fitness

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Your brain can regenerate cells, which means that it is able to replenish and repair your nerve highways to keep you cognitively fit.

At least, that’s what some scientists have argued for the last 50 years.

Before then, scientists were firm on the “fact” that we are born with all the brain cells that we would ever have. From that moment on they only die — resulting in our doddery old selves.

Other organs have that property — being born with all you will ever have. For example, our taste buds and our muscle fibres (The number of muscle fibres is determined before birth. Postnatal muscle growth mainly results from increases in muscle fibre length and girth stimulated by exercise). So it was a reasonable assumption that brain cells might be the same.

In the 1960s some scientists claimed that they had evidence of new immature neurons in the brain. This was named neurogenesis — the rebirth of brain cells.

This is fantastic news, if true. However, studies since then have been ambivalent, especially many studies this decade.

The 2019 Medscape Report “ 15 Studies That Challenged Medical Dogma in 2019” caught my attention — in particular, the first item. It brought stunning news.

New neurons proliferate in the hippocampus as we age, even into the ninth decade of life, researchers demonstrated in this paper in Nature Medicine.

Scientists were able to deploy new state-of-the-art methods to review brain tissue from the hippocampus. Incredibly, they “identified thousands of immature neurons in the DG (dentate gyrus) of neurologically healthy human subjects up to the ninth decade of life”.

Our brains can rewire themselves

​Here’s what they concluded — “this process, called adult hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN), confers an unparalleled degree of plasticity to the entire hippocampal circuitry”.

Here’s what they mean — your brain — in particular, your hippocampus — can rewire itself and adapt itself to new circumstances throughout your life.

This includes creating new pathways to compensate for biological and neurological degeneration.

It also includes the ability to rewire around neural pathways which are causing you behavioural or psychological problems i.e. you can break habits, or break out of anxiety, for example.

This research also uncovered another spectacular finding. Where they found less neurogenesis they found higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease. They speculate that impaired neurogenesis may be an indicator of potential Alzheimer’s disease.

Why should we be excited?

We should be very excited about the proof of neurogenesis because we know that exercise helps it.

What would it do for us if we could improve neurogenesis in the hippocampus?

Our hippocampus plays a vital role in regulating learning, memory encoding, memory consolidation, and spatial navigation.

Healthy hippocampal activity is required for forming and reconstructing relational memory associated with flexible cognition and social behaviour.

For example, a reduced hippocampal volume has been seen in depressed patients (read more here) and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; it is thought that the stress experienced by patients who suffer from these disorders may be especially damaging to hippocampal neurons.

Recently, it has been discovered that the hippocampus also plays an important role in sensory responses, such as vision, hearing, and touch. But the memory remains the function most associated with the hippocampus.

​This means learning, memory, spatial navigation, social behaviour, vision, hearing and touch can all be maintained through exercise. By “maintained” I mean that the rate of decline can be slowed.

Exercise improves neurogenesis

When you exercise the greater flow of blood combined with the stimulated flow of cerebrospinal fluid literally washes away toxins — including beta-amyloid — and supplies nutrients for neurogenesis.

Types of exercise which place positive stress on the heart increase the pulse volumes through our vascular system. This improves vascular elasticity.

Thus, exercise keeps the blood vessels in your brain in top shape and ensures that all cells are serviced with a good flow.

Interval training and strength training are two types of exercise which positively stress your heart.

See my post: The secret in ditching your boxing class friends and improving your Return on Exercise (RoE)

If you have diabetes, like me, then exercise keeps your blood flowing and reduces the coagulation of excess glucose in your capillaries. It’s still going to happen, but less than if you do not exercise.

When glucose clags up your capillaries the organisms which rely on that blood flow die. This is why the hairs fall off your feet and lower legs, your hair greys faster, rashes take longer to heal, and brain cells die due to lack of nutrients. Exercise slows that rate of decline.

Read my post: Exercising reduces arterial stiffness — reducing cardiovascular risks

If you are excited by the idea that you can maintain and improve your cognitive fitness by exercise, then I suggest that you get started with regular exercise.

If you already exercise then make sure you have appropriate interval training and strength training to improve your cardiovascular condition, plus solid endurance training.

Doing this will support your ability to regenerate brain cells and to benefit from a slower decline in cognitive function.

Good luck.

I’m Walter Adamson. I write about life, health, exercise, life and cognitive fitness to help men and women over 50 live longer better.

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Read more of my articles on exercise and fitness for over 50s here.

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Walter Adamson

Walter Adamson


Optimistically curious, 70+ trail runner; 2X cancer; diabetic; Click “FOLLOW” for living longer better tips | My Newsletter 👉