I go for a run nearly every day. I wouldn’t consider myself a fitness buff; mainly I run so that I don’t gain weight. But according to an article in the New York Times, running might have another benefit — improving my brain’s health:
Scott Small at Columbia, for instance , likes nothing better than a strenuous game of tennis. “As a neurologist,” he explains, “I constantly get asked at cocktail parties what someone can do to protect their mental functioning. I tell them, ‘Put down that glass and go for a run.’ “
The basis for this claim was first found in research on mice: mice with exercise wheels in their cages tended to perform better on cognitive tasks. Later evidence for generating new brain material — neurogenesis — was found in mice, and later still, in humans. Can exercise actually enhance neurogenesis?
This spring, neuroscientists at Columbia University in New York City published a study in which a group of men and women, ranging in age from 21 to 45, began working out for one hour four times a week. After 12 weeks, the test subjects, predictably, became more fit. Their VO2 max, the standard measure of how much oxygen a person takes in while exercising, rose significantly.
But something else happened as a result of all those workouts: blood flowed at a much higher volume to a part of the brain responsible for neurogenesis. Functional M.R.I.’s showed that a portion of each person’s hippocampus received almost twice the blood volume as it did before. Scientists suspect that the blood pumping into that part of the brain was helping to produce fresh neurons.
This research has been supported by other studies as well, and behavioral evidence in children and adults matches the neurological data.
So physical exercise might just exercise the brain as well, and even prevent some of the mental decline associated with aging. But I really want to know is the answer to the question posed in the headline. As several Sciencebloggers have pointed out, over thirty “sciblings” met up this past weekend in New York — to get to know each other better, but also to engage in rather sophomoric revelry. Apparently I didn’t embarrass myself too badly on Karaoke night, but I almost certainly drank to much. I wonder how far I’ll have to run to make up for that….