Tag Archives: science

Aerobic Exercise Grows Brain Cells, Increases Brain Mass

[This post expands on a link from my July 3 post.]

It was once thought that the brain does not generate new brain cells and once a neuron was gone, it was gone forever. This is what I, like many, was told as a kid. As it turns out, recent science shows that not only do humans continue to generate new brain cells throughout life, aerobic exercise fosters a higher rate of neurogenesis, or the birth of neurons.

Scientists say that, in addition to brain degeneration from aging being curbed by increased neurogenesis, the degeneration can be reversed. Evidence suggests that risks for neurodegenerative problems like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can be curbed and symptoms alleviated. Additionally, scientists are noticing brain degeneration in illnesses like depression and ADHD and problems like anxiety and stress and say that these ailments can be fought with neurogenesis.

The science is still young and this is not a miracle cure-all. But it’s clear that aerobic exercise grows more brain cells and has an impact on everything from depression to the likelihood one will develop Alzheimer’s. I’ve liked to three articles with excerpts below the flip. Feed your brain and learn about neurogenesis

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Notes from the Underground

Here’s a round up of links I wanted to do full posts on, but don’t have time.

1.) Neurogenesis: your body creates new brain cells. Aerobic exercise increases neurogenesis and helps fight mental illnesses (like depression), senility, and Alzheimer’s.

But something else happened as a result of all those workouts: blood flowed at a much higher volume to a part of the brain responsible for neurogenesis. Functional M.R.I.’s showed that a portion of each person’s hippocampus received almost twice the blood volume as it did before. Scientists suspect that the blood pumping into that part of the brain was helping to produce fresh neurons.

The hippocampus plays a large role in how mammals create and process memories; it also plays a role in cognition. If your hippocampus is damaged, you most likely have trouble learning facts and forming new memories. Age plays a factor, too. As you get older, your brain gets smaller, and one of the areas most prone to this shrinkage is the hippocampus. (This can start depressingly early, in your 30’s.) Many neurologists believe that the loss of neurons in the hippocampus may be a primary cause of the cognitive decay associated with aging. A number of studies have shown that people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia tend to have smaller-than-normal hippocampi. The Columbia study suggests that shrinkage to parts of the hippocampus can be slowed via exercise.

2.) I don’t agree with Obama regarding his new call to expand federal aid to faith-based programs, but at least read what he said and don’t rely on media reports:

Now, make no mistake, as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don’t believe this partnership will endanger that idea – so long as we follow a few basic principles. First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we’ll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work.

That doesn’t mean that the federal funds can’t be used to free up other money that will be used on discriminatory and proselytizing activities.

3.) Hitchens get’s waterboarded – Is this the Christian fundie wet dream, or are they dissapointed that Dawkins and Harris weren’t tortured as well? Hitchens has been unappolagetic pro-war and a proponent of waterboarding. Now he says, “believe me, it’s torture”.

4.) This MTV Choose or Loose election commercial is funny.

5.) A Christian “news” service changes Olympian Tyson Gay’s name to “Tyson Homosexual”. Ha! Fundies say the darndest things!

6.) Two years out and people still express “disgust” and “outrage” over New Orleans Katrina looters (see this famous pic). Why doesn’t anyone talk about the racist vigilantes? Watch this clip from the excellent Danish documentary Welcome to New Orleans. (Watch the complete film, a story of how self reliance and private citizen volunteerism filled a need medical care needs despite the government’s efforts to stop it, @ Google Vide0.)

“Atheists, if there’s no God, where do you get your morals from?”

Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker says, shockingly, evolution.

Pinker is the Harvard prof I mentioned in an earlier post about swearing, and whose new book, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature, I’ve just started.

Pinker’s latest article for the New York Times Magazine titled The Moral Instinct engagingly and elegantly tackles an oft-asked R&S favorite, Where do atheists get their morals? Pinker draws us into the article with this question:

Which of the following people would you say is the most admirable: Mother Teresa, Bill Gates or Norman Borlaug?

….[A] deeper look might lead you to rethink your answers. Borlaug, father of the “Green Revolution” that used agricultural science to reduce world hunger, has been credited with saving a billion lives, more than anyone else in history. Gates, in deciding what to do with his fortune, crunched the numbers and determined that he could alleviate the most misery by fighting everyday scourges in the developing world like malaria, diarrhea and parasites. Mother Teresa, for her part, extolled the virtue of suffering and ran her well-financed missions accordingly: their sick patrons were offered plenty of prayer but harsh conditions, few analgesics and dangerously primitive medical care.

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Smart Ass – Harvard Prof Tackles Swearing

Steven Pinker, Ph.D recently wrote a book I intend to read called The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. The Times of London says it’s “A display of fiercely intricate intelligence and nobody with the least interest in language should miss reading it.”

In the book, Pinker includes a chapter on swearing. That chapter was adapted to an article for The New Republic and I have a copy of the article. It’s quite good and I need to read it again. Pinker says that taboo words are actually stored in differnt parts of the brain from other words:

THE STRANGE EMOTIONAL power of swearing–as well as the presence of linguistic taboos in all cultures– suggests that taboo words tap into deep and ancient parts of the brain. In general, words have not just a denotation but a connotation: an emotional coloring distinct from what the word literally refers to, as in principled versus stubborn and slender versus scrawny. The difference between a taboo word and its genteel synonyms, such as shit and feces, cunt and vagina, or fucking and making love, is an extreme example of the distinction. Curses provoke a different response than their synonyms in part because connotations and denotations are stored in different parts of the brain. Continue reading