Can we grow new brain cells?

Evidence from animal studies shows that physical exercise can result in new brain cell growth in the hippocampus – the area of the brain important for memory.

“We used to think that as adults you never got any new brain cells, but it turns out that at least in this particular area of the brain, even adult animals will grow new brain cells,” says neuroscientist Dr. Cheryl Grady, assistant director of Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute.

Dr. Grady points to a study comparing the effects of exercise on mice and humans. The study found that mice who were exercised had more brain cells. The researchers “couldn’t look at brain cells in people, but they could measure blood volume, which in the mice was related to more new brain cells,” she explains. “And what they found in young adults after an exercise regimen of a few weeks or months was that they had an increase in blood volume in the same area of the brain (where) the mice showed new cells and increased blood volume,…suggesting that exercise promotes new cell growth in people.”

Use it or lose it

Not all the new brain cells survive, Dr. Grady points out. “However, if you take the mice and make them do tasks which are hippocampal-dependent – actually using these new brain cells – more of the cells will survive,” she explains.

To stimulate the hippocampus and use your new brain cells, Dr. Grady recommends taking up a new hobby, participating in a new course or even just engaging in social activities.

To support Baycrest and exciting initiatives, DONATE ONLINE or call the donations line at 416-785-2875 or 1-800-223-2087.