We all know exercise is good for our bodies. And yes, our brain is a part of our body. But does a good workout at the gym really do anything for our brains? The answer might be yes.
In this NYT science page article, author Gretchen Reynolds makes the connections between exercise, blood flow to the brain, and neurogenesis, the process of adding new neurons to the brain. In a nutshell, the idea is that by exercising you increase blood flow to the brain, which then has more raw materials at its disposal to create new neurons.
Why do you need new neurons? Actually, that isn’t all that clear yet (at least not to me). We know that we are born with plenty of neurons, and most of them stick around our entire lives. But in the last 10 years or so, we have learned a lot about the process of creating new neurons, mostly (or all) in or around the hippocampus.)
There is an interesting critique of this article here, in which blogger Jake Young accuses Ms. Reynolds of getting the facts right but the interpretation wrong. He is certainly correct that the Morris Water Maze (MWM) is more of a spatial memory test than a “rat IQ” test. The rest of his argument boils down to this: The science around the hippocampus, neurogenesis, and memory is not nearly as clear as Ms. Reynolds states it. All true. But it is hard to resist the speculation that neurogenesis might have something to do with long term memory, since it does take place around the hippocampus, and the hippocampus is clearly involved in the creation of new long term memories. Perhaps she could have been more clear about what parts of the story were more speculative than others.