While it is pretty universally understood that your brain cannot produce new neurons, one fascinating thing it is capable of is neuroplasticity- creating new neural connections. So, as we age and our brain cells diminish, we are still capable of maintaining and even improving brain function by quite literally changing the way we think. Researchers are actively studying and proving the existence of neuroplasticity in children, people with learning disabilities, people with traumatic brain injuries, amputees, and even the average, healthy person. So if we can do it, how do we do it? Well, there may not be one specific answer. Research is being done to test specific treatments and chemical interventions but many have mixed results.
A study recently presented at a Radiological Society of North America meeting shows that gray matter in the brain can be increased through moderate aerobic exercise. Compared to the 19 participants assigned to a “stretching only” condition, the 16 who completed aerobic exercise 4x/week showed increased brain volume and improved brain function. Those in the exercise condition observed increased size of the lobe that connects the brain’s hemispheres (corpus callosum) and improved executive function. Although the size of this study is rather limited, it mirrors an exciting trend that is being found in similar studies. Exercise your brain!!!