This Is Your Brain on Something Other Than Exercise
The human brain undergoes neurogenesis — the creation of new cells — throughout a person’s life, although the amount depends on a variety of factors, not just exercise.
MARIJUANA: We just report the data; we don’t endorse it. A 2005 study on rats found that stimulation of the brain’s receptors for marijuana increased neurogenesis.
ALCOHOL: A 2005 study found that mice that swallowed a moderate amount of ethanol showed more neurogenesis than teetotalers. Other studies on mice have suggested that heavier drinking can be damaging to the brain.
SOCIABILITY: One study suggests that rats that live alone and have access to a run ning wheel experience less neurogenesis than those that have access to a running wheel and live in group housing. So go ahead and join that singles running club you’ve been avoiding.
DIET: A diet high in saturated fat and sugar sharply diminishes the brain’s production of the proteins and nerve-growth factors necessary for neurogenesis. Exercise may mitigate that effect somewhat.
STRESS: Mice that are subjected to uncontrollable stress (like electric shock) suffer substantial deterioration in their ability to produce new neurons.
CHOCOLATE: In a study published this year, an ingredient in cocoa, epicatechin, was shown to improve spatial memory in mice, especially among those that exercised. Epicatechin can also be found in grapes, blueberries and black tea. “I plan to start ingesting more epicatechin,” says Henriette van Praag, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute, “as soon as I can’t find my car keys anymore.” G.R.