Thursday, March 15, 2007
Running down memory lane
Last weekend, I did a very odd thing. I got in my car, left my family at home and drove to the first TV station where I ever worked. That may not sound so adventurous, but I live outside Washington, D.C., and my first job in broadcasting was in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Don't reach for a map - I can save you the trouble. It's about 200 miles away, a three-hour drive, without stops. Why would I take a glorious afternoon to drive to a place I haven't been in 30 years? Can't tell you. I just had a strong urge to see the place again. Maybe I was being melancholy, but the images of the town had become so vivid in my head, I just had to hit the road. So I took off, with the Four Tops blasting on my stereo. No Gwen Stefani for me, thank you. I was coasting down memory lane.
Once there, I drove by the station, my old apartment, the places I hung out with friends. The town has changed a lot, but the old church, the bank, the city pool, the railroad tracks I crossed to get home, were still there. The visit was like comfort food for my brain. It felt good to see my old haunts. To finish up the day, I stopped at a gas station, picked up a pepperoni roll and sped on home. My memory mission was complete.
So, was this just an episode in my mid-life crisis or something more? Could be both, but scientists believe it might be due to the exercise I've incorporated into my life recently. Since November, I've been hitting the gym more often. I feel better, both physically and mentally. Now researchers believe that exercise can actually boost brain power in such a way, it can build new cells in a region of the brain linked with memory and memory loss.
The study was actually twofold. While looking at the effects of exercise on the brains of mice, scientists noted that the more the animals exercised, the more brain cells they regenerated, especially in the region called the dentate gyrus, which involves memory. After using high-tech imaging to document the changes in the brains of the mice, researchers used the same MRI process to look at the brains of people before and after exercise. They found the same blood-flow patterns, which suggest that people can also grow new brain cells when they exercise. Although the study, which was headed by doctors at Columbia University Medical Center, was small, they think it's another bit of proof that exercise is good for your brain.
In all truthfulness, I have no idea whether my new gym routine sparked my memory of the hills of West Virginia. I hadn't thought about the place in a long, long time. But since I began my spinning class and working out more often, those "Almost Heaven" moments had become so real to me, I had to touch them again. Let's hope it continues, because the second TV station I worked for was in Miami.
What has exercise done for your brain? I'd like to hear about it.
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