Who would think that if you wanted to grow more brain cells, you had to start doing something with your legs? Aerobic fitness, such as running, is the best way to enhance hippocampal neurogenesis. That’s what researchers from Finland and other institutions have found.

Researchers had adult male rats divided into a few groups. One of them was sedentary and acted as the control; another jogged at moderate intensity everyday; yet another began weight training; while the last group did the equivalent of high-intensity interval training. Rats in the resistance training group had to climb balls with tiny weights tied to their tails; and those in the HIIT group were placed on mini treadmills and required to sprint for 3 minutes, followed by 2 minutes of slow skittering. The entire session lasted a total of 15 minutes.

Photo Credit: University of Missouri
Photo Credit: University of Missouri

After 7 weeks, researchers microscopically examined their brain tissues, specifically the hippocampus – which is the area associated with learning and memory. Interestingly, jogging rats generally showed increased brain volume (neurogenesis) and reduced number and size of age-related holes in the brain’s white and gray matter. In studies with the adult male rats, running on wheels or treadmills can double or even triple the number of new brain cells in the hippocampus! So much more than those doing resistance training and HIIT.

The reasons for this observation is not yet known yet. And honestly, rats are not humans. However, it certainly does provoke further research in this field and we’d look forward to more findings in future. But for those of us who have made running a habit, it certainly sounds like good news!