Charles Darwin was the first to teach us that learning is the survival mechanism we use to adapt to constantly changing environments. Physical activity provides several growth factors for the brain, growing new cells, forging new connections between cells to relay information. It was once thought that the brain was hard-wired, that you were born with all of the neurons you’ll ever have-you can only lose them. Neuroscientists now know that the brain is flexible, or plastic, in that it is an adaptable organ that can be molded by activity, just as a muscle can change with strength training. Everything we do, feel, and think is governed by the brain, and exercise optimizes brain function by nurturing that quality.
Case in point of the brains ability to change. In his fine book, SPARK, Dr. John Ratey cites an ongoing study conducted by epidemiologist David Snowdon in Mankato MN. More than 600 nuns have donated their brains to science upon death, and Dr. Snowdon tells of a Sister Bernadette, who died of a heart attack at the age of 85. The interesting thing about Sister Bernadette is that she scored in the 90th percentile on cognitive tests right up until she died, but when her brain was examined postmortem, it showed massive damage from Alzheimer’s disease. She should have been incapacitated by the ravages of dementia, yet due to her brain health from constantly challenging her mind, her brain was able to compensate for damage to certain areas by recruiting other areas to help with the tasks. She was able to work around the genetic hand she was dealt.
Like you really needed another reason to exercise and keep your mind sharp.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.