Learning Can Keep New Brain Cells Alive

Dr. Bob Goldman

Exercising our minds isn’t just a cliché; it’s a mantra we should all live by if we want to keep fresh neurons—thousands of which are generated each day—alive. Recent research with rats shows that learning enhances the survival of new neurons in the adult brain, specifically in the hippocampus. Moreover, the more challenging the problem, the more cells that survive.

That research builds on findings from work done in the 1990s by Elizabeth Gould, which showed that the mature mammalian brain was able to grow new neurons, a process called neurogenesis. Scientists had long believed that only young, developing minds were able to perform that critical function.

While exercising the brain through learning can keep neurons alive, the new cells don’t survive indefinitely. In fact, most disappear after just a few weeks. Based on their work with rats, a team led by Dr. Tracey J. Shors, a professor in the Department of Psychology and Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers University, believe that the cells are made “just in case.”

“If the animals are cognitively challenged, the cells will linger. If not, they will fade away. Gould, who is now at Princeton University, and I made that discovery in 1999, when we performed a series of experiments looking at the effect of learning on the survival of newborn neurons in the hippocampus of rat brains,” writes Dr. Shors in the March 2009 issue of Scientific American.

The Shors team used a learning task called trace eyeblink conditioning, in which a rat hears a tone and a half second later receives a puff on its eyelid, causing it to blink. After several hundred trials, the animal usually makes a mental connection and blinks before receiving the stimulation. That provides a good way to measure “anticipatory learning,” which is the ability to predict the future based upon the past, according to Dr. Shors.

The scientists conducted additional studies to determine which types of learning work. They found that tasks that required the most mental effort to master rescued the greatest number of new neurons from death. 



Editor’s note: For the latest information and research on health and aging, subscribe to the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine e-zine free at WorldHealth.net.


Total Training

C.S. Sloan

Total Training

Many bodybuilders believe that full-body workouts are only for beginners. In fact, they’re so out of fashion nowadays that it’s not uncommon for rank beginners to go right to split workouts without ever attempting a full-body program. What a travesty! The old-time bodybuilding gods must be hanging their heads in bewilderment and shame.

Iron Halos, Steel Commands

Dave Draper

Iron Halos, Steel Commands

Ah, the weekend to myself. Laree’s gone to visit her mom north of the Napa Valley in California’s charming wine country. The sun clings to the thin edge of fall, unable to conceal the restrained cold of a restless winter. There’s a lot said in the candid utterance, “Brrrr,” on the lips of those whose sleeves are too short for the chilly day.

From Heart Attack to Seriously Jacked

Sean Katterle

From Heart Attack to
Seriously Jacked

Ienjoyed watching the Summer Olympics. Thanks to NBC’s additional coverage via Internet streaming video, for the first time ever I was able to watch hours and hours of Olympic lifting and the other sports I prefer over what airs in prime time. I’m 35, and I noticed that a lot of the competitors were a decade or more younger than I was and that most of the athletes who are about my age were described by the commentators as being in the twilight of their peak-performance years. That made me think about how rare it is to find a sports practitioner beyond the age of 40 who’s impressive not only in the masters division but in the open class as well. And when you come across one who’s still swinging for the fences in his 60s, it’s truly an inspiration. Jay Papish is such an athlete.

Confessions of a Recovering Bodybuilder

Skip La Cour

Confessions of a Recovering Bodybuilder

La Cour continues his revealing introspective on his addiction to bodybuilding and how his one-dimensional focus slowed his growth as a complete person.

The Need for Control

I was a Spartan—and I prided myself on being one.

By Spartan, I mean I was so mentally tough that I needed very little of life’s pleasure to make me happy and fulfilled. I never missed a workout. I never let pain or injuries slow me down. I never missed a meal in that entire time—and I certainly never cheated on my diet.

Unstoppable Arm Size

Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson

Unstoppable Arm Size

What if we told you that eye-popping new arm size can be yours with only 10 minutes’ training each for your biceps and triceps? Interested? Of course you are! Guns that stretch shirtsleeves to the bursting point grab attention as nothing else can.

And if you can add size with less time in the gym, even better, as there’s more recovery time for solid growth. It all comes down to a proven training method that works through supersaturation and fiber activation. In fact, legendary bodybuilding trainer Vince Gironda used a similar method to muscle up Hollywood actors in record time as well as transform a few Mr. Olympia contenders.