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See Inside March 2009

How to Save New Brain Cells

Fresh neurons arise in the adult brain every day. New research suggests that the cells ultimately help with learning complex tasks—and the more they are challenged, the more they flourish



Jana Leon

If you watch TV, read magazines or surf the Web, you have probably encountered advertisements urging you to exercise your mind. Various brain fitness programs encourage people to stay mentally limber by giving their brain a daily workout—doing everything from memorizing lists and solving puzzles to estimating the number of trees in Central Park.

It sounds a bit gimmicky, but such programs may have a real basis in neurobiology. Recent work, albeit mostly in rats, indicates that learning enhances the survival of new neurons in the adult brain. And the more engaging and challenging the problem, the greater the number of neurons that stick around. These neurons are then presumably available to aid in situations that tax the mind. It seems, then, that a mental workout can buff up the brain, much as physical exercise builds up the body.

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