Until recently it was thought that the adult brain did not generate any new neurons. I clearly remember listening to a graduate professor in my Biological Bases for Behavior class state this as an immutable fact. It was kind of depressing to hear that, but I accepted it as an unfortunate reality.
Discoveries in the area of neuroscience over the last decade have toppled many long-standing beliefs about how our brains work. As it turns out, the adult brain can generate new neurons. I had read that finding before, but I found out some fascinating details about this in Sharon Begley’s new book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.
We all know of the numerous benefits of physical exercise – I already blogged about those. There’s a strong mind-body connection such that our physical exercise improves our emotional well-being, our cognitive functioning, and our physical health. It’s virtually free with no major negative side effects (if done properly). If someone were able to extract the benefits of an hour of daily exercise, put it into pill form, and sell it, they’d be a billionaire. Not that anyone should try, mind you, it’s just to emphasize the benefits of regular physical exercise are extensive and should not be passed up.
One thing that we know about depression is that people who are experiencing depression have difficulty recognizing and appreciating novelty. To a person who is depressed, things seem flat and bland. It turns out that people who are experiencing major depression have a shrunken hippocampus – an area of brain that facilitates the formation of new memories. Neuroscientists have discovered that physical exercise actually creates new neurons in the hippocampus. It’s a process known as neurogenesis. These new neurons are especially good at recognizing novelty, which is one major reason why exercise has been shown to elevate depression. AMAZING!!! Yet another reason to exercise – the creation of new neurons that leads to the alleviation of depression.