Study Tests Whether Lifting Weights Or Running Grows More New Brain Cells

The right type of exercise can triple the number of neurons in the brain’s memory zone.

The right type of exercise can triple the number of neurons in the brain’s memory zone.

Sustained aerobic exercise (running) grows new brain cell, but lifting weights does not, a new study concludes.

The research on rats compared three different groups:

  • Sustained aerobic exercise
  • High-intensity interval training
  • Lifting weights

It found that rats who did sustained aerobic exercise for six weeks had developed new brain cells in their hippocampus — the area of the brain vital for memory.

Compared with a control group, they had 2-3 times as many neurons in the hippocampus.

Interval training only had a small effect and lifting weights had no effect on growing new brain cells.

Neurogenesis: How To Grow New Brain Cells

The study’s authors conclude:

“Our results suggest physical exercise promotes AHN [adult hippocampal neurogenesis] most if it is aerobic and sustained, and especially when accompanied by a heightened genetic predisposition for response to physical exercise.”

While this study was carried out in rats, there is plenty of evidence for the positive effects of exercise on neurogenesis (growing new brain cells).

Exercise is certainly beneficial for memory:

Exercise Can Improve Long-Term Memory

For older people, any type of exercise can be beneficial:

The Type of Exercise That Most Benefits Memory, Reasoning and Mental Flexibility

This is one of the first studies, though, to look at the type of exercise that is effective.

The study was published in the Journal of Physiology: London (Nokia et al., 2016).

Image credit: marcovdz

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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