Exercise - long known to promote heart and bone health, among other benefits - increases the growth of brain cells and improves brain function, according to research reviewed today at the American College of Sports Medicine's 15th-annual Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition.
Terry Eckmann, Ph.D., briefed attendees on recent findings, saying the protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is "like Miracle-Gro for the brain." BDNF, Eckmann explained, helps to grow new neurons in the hippocampus and helps the transmission of information across the synapses of neurons.
Fueling these enhanced brain processes, quite literally, are elevated levels of oxygen and glucose which the cardiovascular system - strengthened by exercise - can deliver to the brain. The brain uses about 20 percent of the body's oxygen and glucose.
Scientists have also found that repetitive gross motor movement strengthens the branching of dendrites, which conduct electrochemical stimulation among neurons. "Dendrites receive messages from surrounding brain neurons, and the more dendrites, the more information can be transmitted and stored," said Eckmann.
Recent studies show that students with higher fitness levels score higher on academic tests and show an improved ability to focus. Scientists have also documented the ability of exercise to help prevent dementia and Alzheimer's disease.