I read a really interesting study recently. Just a small one but it gave me a bit of hope as I struggle to remember where I left my car-keys and sometimes, even, my car!!
I thought that we stopped producing new brain cells as we get older – that we just need to try to preserve our grey matter as best we can (yes, including avoiding those weekend alcohol splurges!) if we are to keep our mental capacity as we age.
But it seems that may not be the case. Researchers at Columbia University have found newly formed neurones (nerve cells) in the brains of older people – as many, in fact, as in the brains of younger people. The difference was, that there were fewer new blood vessels being formed in the older brains and perhaps the nerve cells were less well able to connect.
We know that poor blood supply to the brain affects its function – whether acutely as in a stroke, or long-term as in certain types of dementia. Can we increase the blood supply to the brain? Yes, we can. By exercise.
Exercise has been shown to stimulate the formation of new blood vessels in various sites, including brain tissue. Plus, there is evidence that it may help synapse formation – synapses are the connections between brain cells by which they communicate and pass on messages to the rest of our brain and body.
Could this be the added motivation you need to get moving?! If you know that there are newly forming brain cells up there, in need of oxygen, you may be more inclined to help create the blood vessels to feed them, by getting off the sofa.
The good news is that a previous review of several studies looking at exercise and brain function suggested that moderate exercise had the best results – too extreme and it could be detrimental.
How best to do it? Well, that depends on you. The best way to exercise is the one you enjoy – that way you will keep it up. Whether it’s a brisk walk rather than lunch at your desk, a game of tennis with friends, a swim or football with the kids, it doesn’t matter as long as you can feel your heart working, your pulse-rate increasing and you get a bit out of breath. And that you keep it up and push yourself a bit harder as your fitness increases.
Remember, you want to get the blood pumping to the brain to stimulate all of those new blood vessels and keep your brand-new brain cells in peak condition!
If you want more help with getting going then feel free look at our 10kAnyWay information which gives you challenges, training tips and more. (LINK).
Maura Boldrini et al. Human Hippocampal Neurogenesis Persists throughout Aging. Cell Stem Cell, 2018
Fernandes RM et al. The Effects of Moderate Physical Exercise on Adult Cognition: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Physiology. 2018
Morland et al. Exercise induces cerebral VEGF and angiogenesis via the lactate receptor HCAR1. Nature Communications. 2017