“The value of mental-training games may be speculative, as Dan Hurley writes in his article on the quest to make ourselves smarter, but there is another, easy-to-achieve, scientifically proven way to make yourself smarter.” With the current research, brain exercise takes on a whole new meaning.
Over the past decade, neuroscientists have compiled evidence showing a link between exercise and brainpower. Now new findings reveal not only a beneficial relationship but a unique one that fosters powerful neurogenesis in the brain, reports the NY Times. What does it mean for you? The creation of these new neurons from exercise builds a stronger brain able to resist physical shrinkage and increase cognitive ability. It appears physical exercise has a direct correlation to brain exercise.
A team of researchers led by psychology professor Justin Rhodes, from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, began brain tests on mice. They divided the mice into different groups in order to test the effects of different conditions on their brains. Some mice were given nuts, fruits, and cheeses. Others were given an assortment of toys, some more sophisticated than others. And still others received a running wheel in their cage. No matter what the situation, only one group of animals showed any significant improvement in brainpower. “Only one thing had mattered,” Rhodes says, “and that’s whether they had a running wheel.”
It seems only exercise provided benefit to the hippocampi of the mice. The animals who ran on the wheel showed nearly twice as many new neurons in their hippocampi as the sedentary animals. And that’s not even the most shocking aspect of the discovery.
While all the mice developed new neurons during their respective activities, those neurons did not connect to their neural network, which meant they would only aid them in performing the same activity repeatedly. However, the new neurons created in the exercising mice did connect to the neural network and in such a way as to enhance cognition during other activities. Not only did exercise kick-start neurogenesis, it created a different type of neuron able to perform better.
These findings bolster the discovery of a major 2011 study in which men and women who walked regularly over the course of a year gained volume in their hippocampi. The group of men and women who only stretched regularly lost volume due to normal atrophy. Researchers concluded the exercising group had effectively reduced the age of their brains by two years.
Like James Fries, M.D., a pioneer researcher on healthy aging at Stanford University says, “If you had to pick one thing, one single thing that came closest to the fountain of youth, then it would have to be exercise.”