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by Peter Holleran, DC

   This is hot, hot, hot off the press : “Running Boosts Brain Cell Numbers”. Scientists at the Salk Institute have shown that running boosts brain cell survival in animals with neurodegenerative disease. In a study led by researcher Carrolee Barlow, published in Genes and Development, it was found that mice missing the gene Atm, known to be mutated in Ataxia-telangiectasia, or A-T (a disorder characterized by a progressive loss of motor control), had increased brain cell numbers after running for several weeks on a treadmill. The miles logged correlated directly with the number of increased cells. “It’s almost as if they were wearing pedometers,” said Barlow. “And those that ran more had more cells.”

   Increases were found in BOTH the cerebellum, the area directing movement, as well as the hippocampus, a region linked to learning and memory. A-T is rare but shares properties with other diseases such as Alzheimer’s (for example, brain cells in both conditions are highly susceptible to oxidative stress and free-radical damage). “In sedentary mice, it appears that most newly born brain cells die. Running appears to rescue many of these cells that would otherwise die.” Co-author Fred Gage found that running increased brain cell numbers in three additional groups: normal adult mice, elderly “senior citizen” mice, and a genetically “slow-learning” strain of mice (which when extrapolated to humans covers just about everyone we know). Other studies showing new cell growth in human brains suggest the boosting effects of running occur in people as well. Presumably, aerobic activities such as cross country skiing and cycling will produce similar results.

   In summary, therefore, it has been demonstrated that intense aerobic activity increases brain cells related to both movement AND memory. This leads to the following conclusion: if you don’t work out, you will forget to do so, and if you forget to do so, you won’t! Therefore, don’t stop or you will be reduced to a mindless mass of jelly.

   Exercise has also been shown to help with Parkinson's and dementia.