Promising Developments for Survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury: New Studies Link Increased Physical Exercise with Enhanced Neuroplasticity

By Melissa D. Carter, Attorney at Law

 

“They thought that the brain was too sophisticated for its own good.  That during evolution it became so complex that it lost the ability to repair itself and to restore lost functions or to preserve itself.  They were wrong.  Because it turns out that its very sophistication can be the source of a unique kind of healing…the brain’s way of healing”

Doidge, Norman, MD, Introduction.  The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity.  James H. Silberman, New York, 2015.  Print.

The human brain consists of approximately 100 billion neural cells.  Until fairly recently, the prevailing wisdom was that people are born with a finite number of brain cells and that they will not regenerate once dead.  However, we now know that certain areas of the brain under very certain circumstance have the potential to generate new cells (called neurogenesis) and create new neural pathways, often referred to as “neuroplasticity.”  Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change and adapt in response to experience.  This understanding has led to many exciting developments in brain science, and in particular, in relationship to brain injury recovery.  Current understanding is that there are two types of brain neuroplasticity:
  1. “functional”: which is the ability of the brain to move functions from a damaged area to undamaged areas; and
  2. “structural”: which is the brain’s ability to morph  its physical structure as a result of learning.

Neuroplasticity, if it occurs, can be an important piece of recovery following a traumatic brain injury, and can play a role in both cognitive and physical rehabilitation following brain injury. Part of brain rehabilitation is aimed at trying to rebuild connections among the nerve cells, or neurons. This “re-wiring” of the brain, according to theory and practice, may under certain circumstances, make it possible for part of a previously damaged function area to be assisted by another, undamaged area. The connections among the cells, at times, appear to be receptive to this type of change and expansion.

The brain’s plasticity is influenced by many variables, including diet, exercise, cognitive engagement, emotional state, sleep and stress level.  Evidence from both human and animal studies suggests that certain types and degrees of enhanced physical exercise can help facilitate neuroplasticity of certain brain structures, including enhanced cognitive function responses, as well as affective and behavioral responses. As researchers get closer to understanding neuroplasticity and brain injury, the developments may have far reaching impacts on brain injury recovery and rehabilitation.

A recently published special paper in the journal Neural Plasticity looked at multiple recent studies from the past 12 months and seemed to connect certain types of physical exercise with growth of new brain cells, increasing memory center, improving IQ scores and theorizing the possibility of preventing brain deterioration as one ages.  The paper cites 6 different international studies that used brain scans, EEG recordings, blood sampling and saliva sampling to investigate the exercise-induced brain activity and volume changes in different brain areas, including frontal and central regions of the brain, the hippocampus, cerebellum and motor cortex.  The studies looked at the impact of a variety of physical exercise, such as dancing, playing handball, walking or cycling.  The outcome variables referred to cognitive (memory consolidation) and motor performance measures.[1]   The results of the multiple studies suggest that physical exercise may play a role in triggering neuroplasticity and, thereby, could possibly enhance an individual’s capacity to respond to new demands with behavioral alterations.

Lifestyle strategies proven to promote neurogenesis include:

  • Interval training exercise;
  • Reducing overall calorie consumption;
  • Reducing carbohydrate consumption (especially grains and sugars);
  • Enough healthy fat consumption to eliminate insulin resistance; and
  • Enough high-quality omega-3 fats and eliminating damaged omega-6 fats (processed vegetable oils).[2]

Advances and developments in rehabilitation in the area of brain health are ongoing.  At Adler Giersch, we remain devoted in our drive to study, learn, and advance the understanding of traumatic brain injury, rehabilitation and treatment options so that we can provide the best legal representation to our clients.  If we can be of assistance, simply contact us via email or give us a call.


[1] https://www.hindawi.com/journals/np/2016/3643879/ Neural Plasticity, Volume 2016 (2016), Article ID 3643879, 3 pages “Neuroscience of Exercise: Neuroplasticity and Its Behavioral Consequences.” Henning Budde, Mirko Wegner, Hideaki Soya, Claudia Voelcker-Rehage, and Terry McMorris.
[2] http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/01/15/neuroplasticity-brain-health.aspx