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Children seem to have boundless energy, and letting them use that energy may help get more than stronger bodies.

As this ScienCentral News video reports, researchers say it may also help them learn better.

New neurons

It was once thought that damaged or killed-off nerve cells would never return. But by the late 1960s that belief was being challenged, and by the ‘70s and ‘80s it was confirmed false by techniques which allowed researchers to mark brain cells and watch them divide. According to Henriette Van Praag, a staff scientist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, the question was no longer whether new brain cells grow, but under what conditions and where.

"That question of where these new neurons come from has been elusive for researchers for quite a while, and it’s actually still an area of intense investigation, " says Van Praag.

"What we think is happening is that there are so-called neural stem cells or little immature cells that are left over from development from early life, but still exist in those brain areas where we now see the production of new neurons. And with the proper cues, the appropriate stimulation we can encourage these little immature cells to start a process of becoming new neurons in the adult brain."

Based on her research, Van Praag thinks that that "appropriate stimulation" involves exercise, and could mean a new view on the effects of aging and memory in humans. "You could hypothesize that exercise would be beneficial for adult humans as well. You could think that exercising—running, jogging, swimming—would at least prevent the degradation of existing neurons or enhance production of new neurons in the adult brain, and maybe slow down some of the aging processes and possibly prevent or delay the onset of degenerative diseases," she says.

While it is difficult to prove the same results in humans as in mice, if this hypothesis is correct, it will mean that keeping active could be a key part in keeping your marbles.

by Curt Epstein

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