News at Medicine - June 2010 - Exercising our minds

Exercising our minds
June 17, 2010
While it’s obvious that exercise is good for the body, it now turns out that it has benefits for the mind as well. On June 15 Dr. Brian Christie, associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Victoria, described just how this happens during the 2010 John Williams Lecture in the Neurosciences, sponsored by the family of Dr. John Williams.
Exercise stimulates the formation of new neurons in the brain, said Dr. Christie. “Our brains are dynamic – like skin and muscle, brains change in response to their environment.”

In particular the hippocampus, which is important for memory, contains neuronal stem cells.  “Experiments have shown that enriched environments improve learning and memory in rats by increasing neurogenesis in the hippocampus.”

As well as increasing the production of new neurons in the brain, exercise enhances the growth of existing dendrites on neurons.

So how much exercise do you need to see results? Dr. Christie said that it’s only about 12 days in rats, but humans need 12 weeks of daily exercise to see positive results.

Dr. Christie's research has implications for a variety of disorders including fetal alcohol syndrome, fragile-X syndrome, Alzheimer's Disease, schizophrenia and other neuropathologies where the cognitive capacities of the brain are impaired. 

From left:Dr. Dale Corbett, Canada Research Chair in Stroke and Neuroplasticity; Dr. Anne Williams, daughter of the late Dr. John Williams; and Dr. Brian Christie, visiting lecturer.