Neurogenesis is the process of growth of neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain. For decades the conventional wisdom was that we live most of our lives with the brain cells that we had by the age of say thirty or so. That’s no longer the case. Research has shown that neurogenesis can take place throughout our lives, although the production of new neurons is reduced as we age. What’s the magic potion you take to make this happen? It’s not a pill, just our old friend, aerobic exercise.
Hippocampus — that’s the section of the brain required for the formation of long-term memory and cognitive maps for spatial navigation. Spatial navigation is the processing of information from past and present and using it to make complex decisions. The hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain affected in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. What generates neurogenesis in that section of your brain? Aerobic exercise, of course.
One of the products of aerobic exercise is an increase in our ability to utilize oxygen during exercise. The term used to measure our ability to use oxygen is called VO2 max. This is liters of oxygen used per kilogram of body weight during intense exercise. Several studies have shown that those with the highest VO2 max also scored the highest on memory testing. The research is clear: Aerobic exercise promotes neurogenesis and lowers the risk of dementia.
Art Kramer added:
“There are some interesting studies with what are referred to as knock out or transgene mice. The mice used in these studies produce massive amounts of beta amyloid, a protein associated with the plaques common to Alzheimer’s disease. When these animals have access to a running wheel there is a substantial reduction in the production of beta amyloid.
“Carl Cotman from the University of California, Irvine, who is cited later in this chapter, has conducted at least one of these studies.”