Boom Generation Fitness

Mind - body fitness and health strategies for powering thru later years

The blog is aimed at the generation that was born between 1946 and 1964 - the so-called Baby Boomers.

We are now into our middle-age and very interested in staying fit and healthy until well into our senior years.

This blog provides some of the tools to do just that. You can find posts here and lots more by clicking on the links to THINK FIT and THE FITNESS PAPERS (see left side column).

These pages are about any and all matters concerning wellness, mind, body and spirit and, of course, physical exercise of all sorts. A special feature is an emphasis on individuals who can provide examples for us all of a healthy, energetic and positive life.


Geoff Quartermaine Bastin

More about who I am on:

Friday, November 20, 2009


Did you know that physical activity can generate new brain cells? I didn't until I read 'The Plastic Mind' (with a foreword by the Dalai Lama) by Sharon Begley who is a science correspondent at 'Newsweek' magazine covering neuroscience. Conventional wisdom long held that the brain's main components - neurons - are pretty much fixed in quantity after we become adults. Sure, the connections between the neurons were known to change with memory and learning, but the circuits were thought to be fixed. Extensive research begun in the late 1990s however showed that this is not the case. Part of the brain, the dentate gyrus (in the hippocampus - which deals with long-term memory and spatial awareness) produces neural stem cells in people well beyond adulthood. As Begley says, this research overturned generations of conventional wisdom with new neurons being born well into the eighth decade of life. These cells migrate to existing structures where they weave themselves into existing brain circuitry. So the wiring layout that gets established at about 20 years old does stay in place, but can and does get renewed, something that is hugely exciting for victims of stroke or head trauma.

Now what is truly exciting is that it was found that an "enriched" environment including exercise led to a much greater number of new neural cells being produced. To quote the scientist concerned, Fred Gage, "We think voluntary exercise increases the number of neural stem cells that divide and give rise to new neurons in the hippocampus" (page 81). His work was supported by Brian Christie of the University of British Columbia who found that the individual neurons in the exercise group have more dentrites (the projections through which the neurons receive signals) and that each dendrite had more spines, representing a site where a connection can occur. The research showed that there are physical, structural reasons in the brain why learning and memory capacities are enhanced through exercise.

And another thing: the hippocampus is one of the first areas of the brain to be affected by Altzheimer's Disease; memory problems and disorientation appear among the first symptoms. Even normal, healthy aging is associated with a gradual decline in some types of memory, including episodic memory and working memory.

The science of all this is obviously highly complex, but on the surface it suggests that physical activity and reducing stress (The hippocampus contains high levels of mineralcorticoid receptors which make it more vulnerable to long-term stress than most other brain areas) both have significantly beneficial impacts on brain function as we get older.

This fascinating book has a lot more to say, especially about the mind-body issue, and I'll be writing a full review shortly.

Note: this is relatively old science now, and it's astonishing that it comes to prominence in 2009 with this book. New work from North Carolina State University have identified a gene that tells embryonic stem cells in the brain when to stop producing nerve cells called neurons. The research is a significant advance in understanding the development of the nervous system, which is essential to addressing conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders. Check out

References: 'The Plastic Mind' Sharon Begley, Constable, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-84529-674-2
P.S. Eriksson, E. Perfilieva, T.Bjork-Eriksson, A.M. Alborn, C. Nordberg, D.A. Peterson, F.H. Gage, 'Neurogenesis in the Adult Human Hippocampus', Nature Medicine, 4, 1998
H.van Praag, A.F. Schinder,, B.R.Christie, N.Toni,T.D.Palmer, F.H.Gage, 'Functional Neurogenesis in the Adult Hippocampus', Nature 415, 2002

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