Physical Exercise: Fertilizer for New Brain Cells
By Sherrie All, Ph.D.
In addition to helping the brain grow new brain cells, physical exercise increases the production of a group of chemicals in the brain called brain growth factors. These growth factors operate like fertilizer for your new, baby brain cells, helping them survive the delicate early phases of their lifecycle as they go from being stem cells to new neurons with specific jobs. Nerve growth factors also help the baby neurons sprout connections so that they get incorporated into networks, otherwise, without forming connections, they don't stick around.
One of the most widely studied brain growth factors is called brain derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF for short. Aerobic exercise is currently one of the most effective ways to increase production of BDNF. More recently, strength training, such as living weights, was shown to increase levels of another type of brain growth factor called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).
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