Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Hippocampal Neurogenesis

with 9 comments

Secret weapons. I have two of them. One is love. Okay, that one’s not so secret. The other one is my new favorite phrase: hippocampal neurogenesis. Isn’t that just the best? It’s fun to say and it describes the mental health benefits available from exercising.

You can read about the details in this March 2018 Psychology Today article, “How Your Mental Health Reaps the Benefits of Exercise,” by Sarah Gingell, Ph.D. 

I just discovered a link to the article earlier this week, and the marvel of new growth of neurons in the hippocampus has me giddy over this hidden benefit of exercising. In particular, the insights of these three paragraphs:

Evidence is accumulating that many mental health conditions are associated with reduced neurogenesis in the hippocampus. The evidence is particularly strong for depression. Interestingly, many anti-depressants — that were once thought to work through their effects on the serotonin system — are now known to increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

What does this all mean? Theories suggest that newborn hippocampal neurons are likely to be particularly important for storing new memories and keeping old and new memories separate and distinct. Thus, neurogenesis allows a healthy level of flexibility in the use of existing memories, and in the flexible processing of new information.

Much mental ill health is characterized by a cognitive inflexibility that keeps us repeating unhelpful behaviors, restricts our ability to process or even acknowledge new information, and reduces our ability to use what we already know to see new solutions or to change. It is therefore plausible that exercise leads to better mental health in general, through its effects on systems that increase the capacity for mental flexibility.

Exercise increases blood flow to our brains, bringing oxygen and nutrients to create new neurons in the hippocampus. As a result, we are rewarded with increased ability to process new information, and deal with change because of increased mental flexibility.

That means a lot to me because I can look back at some of the struggles I dealt with under the weight of depression and vividly recognize a particular inflexibility of my thinking, as well as an aversion to the stresses of change.

Today, I am all about hippocampal neurogenesis. You might say, it’s my healthy drug of choice.

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9 Responses

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  1. Thanks for posting this link, John! I will read the entire article. But just what you’ve posted so far makes me wonder if memory loss isn’t so much a product of old age as it is a result of getting less and less exercise as one ages. Also, did the article talk about oxygenating the blood and brain through deep breathing, e.g., a pranayama practice?

    katykatrinka

    May 15, 2019 at 8:48 am

    • You are welcome! It did not specifically address deep breathing, beyond the incidental association that occurs from exercise. Combine both practices and we’ll compound the benefits to even greater reward! Here’s to better health as we age.

      johnwhays

      May 15, 2019 at 9:08 am

  2. Yes, but a little mindfulness will probably help… it is also far from being a drug, steeped with all its negative connotations and quick-fix associations. Not sure I am really with you on this one. Me thinks you might be better off breathing life into higher/ more sophisticated brain functions. That said, I guess I don’t really take to this trendy formulation. Shouldn’t we be capable of viewing life more holistically? You know, the Tree of Life type perspective… just saying… you have to know… and (re-)gain balance.

    Ian Rowcliffe

    May 9, 2019 at 8:32 am

    • I’m guessing you aren’t as far off from my thinking as your words imply… Breathing deep, healthy exercise (I know you don’t like “chore”, while I don’t fully frame this as negative), more blood flow, better brain functions, higher awareness, fuller life force, definitely better balance. Throw in some planting of new trees and balancing a few stones, becoming inspired to inspire others! Optimal health is my ultimate drug of choice, your disdain for the “drug” connotation notwithstanding. Can be a quick-fix that lasts a lifetime! Actually, an ongoing process, not a one-time event.

      johnwhays

      May 9, 2019 at 8:54 am

      • Yes, you are right: I can’t see the advantage of framing that as a ‘drug’, which to my mind debases the whole experience. Just cultural thinking, I guess.

        Ian Rowcliffe

        May 9, 2019 at 9:03 am

      • I might say that I’m being “flexible” in my interpretations. 🙂

        johnwhays

        May 9, 2019 at 9:05 am

      • Yep, we can chose an optimistic or pessimistic viewpoint or something that transcends all of that: something beyond all belief, a feeling of being part of the unfolding of life and existence. Your stone arrangements should fall but often don’t. How can that be possible! To me, you get it right for a time in a specific moment. Pretty marvelous… defying reality, somehow. We have ‘one and one makes two thinking’ and, then, all of a sudden, the insight that ‘one and one’ adds up to infinity. Life takes off to G/god knows where!

        Ian Rowcliffe

        May 9, 2019 at 9:17 am

      • You are marvelous, Ian. Thank you!

        johnwhays

        May 9, 2019 at 9:20 am

      • Actually, I am about to get somewhat wet and bedraggled. About to mulch the Kiwi Field before the return to the heat. That said, I am empowered by the memory of the Spring Garden experience we shared and that you inspired. Great expectations, indeed.

        Ian Rowcliffe

        May 9, 2019 at 9:33 am


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