Maryann Bucknum Brinley

167 Cooper Avenue
Upper Montclair, NJ 07043-1810

973-202-5909 (cell)

Extraordinary at Ordinary

Searching for extraordinary science and understanding in the everyday ordinary of life

How to Grow a Brain

Maryann Bucknum Brinley - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I walk most mornings for at least 30 minutes because I’ve been thinking that the aerobic exercise is good for my body. Not until I interviewed James Sumowski, PhD, a researcher at the Kessler Foundation, about his work with multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury patients, did I realize that this ordinary act of walking could physically grow my brain’s hippocampus in extraordinary ways. 

Sumowski is a wonderful interviewee, excited about his work and enthusiastically trying to stress a very simple but far-reaching message about exercise. Just do it. “There had never been an aerobic exercise trial in traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients looking at hippocampal volume and memory,” he explains. By the way, every human being has two hippocampi, located on either side of the brain, and they play a crucial part in our ability to form new memories and recall the old ones. 

The good news from Sumowski: “You can grow your hippocampus." After 12 weeks of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week (stationary bicycling in this clinical trial), multiple sclerosis patients experienced a 16 percent increase in their hippocampal volume, a number that astounded the research team. Meanwhile, a control group had been doing stretching exercises on a similar schedule but showed no brain growth. Sumowski, who is now conducting a similar study working with TBI patients, is also looking at “functional connectivity” or how remote regions of the brain talk to each other. As a result of aerobic exercise on a regular basis, “Greater connectivity is observed across brain regions in this short period of time.”            

            Imagine that something as simple as a morning walk could keep my brain growing and those connections working like magic! 

(Don't you love this photo of my grandson Finn and husband Bob taking a morning walk on the beach?!!)

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