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Exercising Your Brain, It Matters

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A study released by the Society for Neuroscience, shows that when it comes to the brain, it’s a question of “use it or lose it.”

Until recently, scientists thought that no new neurons grew in the brains of adults and that over time the number of brain cells you had just withered away and diminished. Over the last ten years or so, those same scientists have come to realize that the brain is constantly producing new brain cells. It’s just that in most people, those cells never fully develop, and just die off – thus no benefit. The new study shows us how we can keep those new cells, and keep “growing our brains” throughout our entire lives.

In the study, a number of rats had their “new” brain cells tagged with a chemical marker. One group was given a stimulating “learning exercise” to master over two weeks. The other group was kept in a dull, un-stimulating environment. After one week, both groups showed about 5,000 new cells formed in the hippocampus of their brains. The two groups were then re-examined one week later. In the un-stimulated group, all 5,000 cells had died; but in the “learning” group, the 5,000 cells had not only survived but had matured into functionally wired neurons. Even better, the more difficult the tasks the rats learned, the more cells that matured and became functional neurons.

Bottom line: keeping mentally active protects against dementia. Do crossword puzzles; listen to classical music; learn a new language; go back to school – whatever it takes. The more you do, the more brain you get to keep.

But it gets even better.

A five-year study of more than 2,200 adults, also recently released, found a link between obesity and a decline in cognitive function. The researchers found that people with a body mass index (a measure of body fat) of 20 or less could recall 56 percent of words in a vocabulary test, but those who were obese, with a BMI of 30 or higher, could remember only 44 percent. The fatter subjects also showed a higher rate of cognitive decline when they were retested five years later – their recall had dropped even further, to 37.5 percent, but those with a healthy weight had retained their higher level of recall.

And beyond that, regular exercise has been shown to protect against diseases of the brain such as Parkinson’s.

Bottom line: If you want to slow down or eliminate brain rot, you need to exercise – both your mind and your body.

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