Recent research has shown that exercise, even in the elderly, can increase regeneration of brain cells. Several news stories reported on a study out of Germany by the Max Planck Society, a non-profit research organization designed for the Advancement of Science. The study was released by the Society on May 6th, 2010, under the title of “New nerve cells – even in old age”.
The Max Planck Society report starts out by noting, “After birth the brain looses many nerve cells and this continues throughout life – most neurons are formed before birth, after which many excess neurons degenerate.” They then go on to state that, “However, there are some cells that are still capable of division in old age.”
They do note that this study was done on mice, but the researchers believe that their findings are applicable to human brains as well. The authors’ state that throughout a persons life there are neuronal stem cells present that can create new neurons, (nerve cells). However, they note that as we get older many of these stem cells are in a state of dormancy, and are therefore not producing new nerve cells.
This study, which was also published as part of the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in January of 2010, showed that through exercise the production of new nerve cells can be reactivated. In this study scientists looked at two groups of mice. One group had a running wheel available to them at all times while the second group of mice did not have access to an exercise wheel. The results of the study showed that even with just a few days of using the wheel, the brain was stimulated to grow new nerve cells in a part of the brain involved in memory and recall. Test results for these mice showed that they performed better on memory and learning tests, than did their counterparts that did not have a wheel to exercise on.
Study leader, Dr. Verdon Taylor, reported on the results of his study by saying, “In young mice, the stem cells divide four times more frequently than in older animals. However, the number of cells in older animals is only slightly lower. Therefore, neuronal stem cells do not disappear with age but are kept in reserve.” His study noted that exercise helps reactivate these cells, and he therefore concluded that in humans, “Running promotes the formation of new neurons.”