Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘mental flexibility

Hippocampal Neurogenesis

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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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