Just remember the benefits of exercise

Michael Greenberg, who wrote a memoir recently about his daughter’s experience of bipolar disorder, has now written a fascinating review in the New York Review of Books (NYRoB) of a new tome on memory “Can’t Remember What I Forgot: The Good News from the Front Lines of Memory Research” by Sue Halpern.

As with so many reviews in the NYRoB, Greenberg’s account gives you a wonderfully informative snapshot of Halpern’s book – providing a glimpse of how she subjected herself to psychological experimentation; the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease; and the desperate scientific hunt for an effective medical treatment.

Oh and in case you are wondering, the optimism in the book’s title, Greenberg explains, comes from the discovery of the power of exercise:

“During the years that she was writing this book, one incontrovertible means of neurogenesis came to light: aerobic exercise. The mechanics of the process couldn’t be simpler: exercise promotes new cell growth in old brains by increasing their blood volume, and cell growth improves memory. It was true for mice with cognitive impairment and it was true for humans with MCI [mild cognitive impairment]. It didn’t take away amyloid plaque [a neuropathological hallmark of Alzheimer’s], but it improved cognition anyway. ‘In addition,’ explains Halpern, ‘exercise…increased the amount of the chemical BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) circulating in the brain, and it was BDNF that stimulated the birth of new brain cells…. BDNF also enhanced neural plasticity, which was to say that it enabled the brain to prosper. In diseases like Alzheimer’s, depression, Parkinson’s, and dementia more generally, BDNF levels were low. In people who exercised, BDNF levels rose.’

Link to NYRoB review of “Can’t Remember What I Forgot: The Good News from the Front Lines of Memory Research” by Sue Halpern.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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