When we think about the benefits of exercise on the body, most of us can come up with several examples such as improved muscle strength, reduced body weight, or a stronger heart. What research is beginning to show is that exercise benefits brain integrity. This concept is not new.

Ramon Y Cajal, Spanish scientist and Nobel prize winner in 1906, (sum­ma­riz­ing the main con­clu­sions of his paper on Gen­eral Con­sid­er­a­tions on the Mor­phol­ogy of the Nerve Cell in 1894) said that “intel­lec­tual power, and its most noble expres­sions, tal­ent and genius, do not depend on the size or num­ber of cere­bral neu­rons, but on the rich­ness of their con­nec­tive pro­ce­sses, or in other words on the com­plex­ity of the asso­ci­a­tion path­ways to short and long distances…Adaptation and pro­fes­sional dex­ter­ity, or rather the per­fect­ing of func­tion by exer­cise (phys­i­cal edu­ca­tion, speech, writ­ing, piano-playing, mas­tery in fenc­ing, and other activ­i­ties) were explained by either a pro­gres­sive thick­en­ing of the ner­vous path­ways … excited by the pas­sage of the impulse or the for­ma­tion of new cell processes (non-congenital growth of new den­drites and exten­sion and branch­ing of axone col­lat­er­als) capa­ble of improv­ing the suit­abil­ity and the exten­sion of the con­tacts, and even of mak­ing entirely new con­nec­tions between neu­rons prim­i­tively independent”. (Note: Read this passage at least 4 times-it is packed with much important content)

Even 125 years ago, Cajal was able to study connections between neurons and observed that these connections could change as a result of a stimulus. He proposed that exercise contributed to the richness of neuronal connections which was responsible for learning, “perfecting” and adaptation.  The difference today is that we have fine-tuned measurement of cells and molecules such that we can determine what events or processes are actually happening inside the brain as a result of exercise. Indeed, “doing” or “exercising” seems to be critical to a healthy brain. More to come on this topic….

“The brain cannot stand like a monument, and maintain its integrity.”                    

William Henry Day (from Headaches; their Nature, Causes, and Treatment, 1880)