Maintaining Mental Sharpness Throughout Life ~ New Study

Maintaining Mental Sharpness Throughout Life ~ New Study

Hi Readers, A new study conducted by Maura Boldrini and colleagues at Columbia University was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal, Cell Stem Cell.  Although their “participants” only numbered 28 deceased persons, the findings are significant and suggest further studies on neurogenesis, exercise, and challenging our brains with lifelong learning.  

Previous aging studies show that conversational language causes brain firing and production of new brain cells, resulting in the promotion of social engagement and deterrents to social isolation among aging experts.  Therefore, I do not concur with programs that promote solitary endeavors such as crossword puzzles, sudoku, and jigsaw puzzles.  Instead, I recommend a threefold approach, lifelong learning and aerobic exercise combined with maintaining close social contacts for promotion of healthy aging.   

We know that blood flow diminishes among older sedentary individuals, yet exercise contributes to maintaining brain vasculature.  Until now, it was assumed by aging and brain experts that a decline in mental sharpness in old age was correlated with diminished production of new brain cells.  This study suggests otherwise and that increased blood flow to the brain from exercise combined with lifelong learning may result in retention of mental abilities for older adults. When the 28 brains of the healthy individuals were examined, neuron production was relatively the same.  However, the aging brains had reduced blood flow to nourish those cells (Park, 2018). 
The posting below was written by Helen Thomas and copied/pasted from New Scientist.  It is an accurate summary of the study published in Cell Stem Cell.
New Scientist, April 14, 2018, NEWS and TECHNOLOGY:

PEOPLE in their 70s seem to produce just as many new neurons as teenagers. The discovery could provide clues as to how we can keep our minds sharper for longer.

In mammals, most brain cells are created at or soon after birth and aren’t renewed. Recently, it was found that the human hippocampus, linked with learning and memory, produces new neurons throughout life. But this ability, called neurogenesis, was thought to plummet after middle age.

Now, Maura Boldrini at Columbia University in New York and her colleagues have analyzed the hippocampi from 28 people, aged between 14 and 79. These were examined soon after each person’s death to check for the number of new neurons they contained, and other signs of neuron function and activity.

Similar numbers of new neurons were found throughout each hippocampus, regardless of a person’s age. The team estimates that each person was making about 700 neurons a day when they died.

“New neuron growth has never been studied before in people who didn’t have any brain disease or end-of-life stress, with tissue taken within 24 hours of death,” says Boldrini. “Our results show that healthy older people can form just as many new neurons as younger people. If we know what is happening in these people to keep their neurons forming, then maybe we can use it to help others age more healthily too.”

The number of new neurons may still be a lot higher in newborns and young children, says Jeff Davies at Swansea University, UK. He would be interested to see the study repeated in people who do and don’t exercise. “This would provide some insight into whether the production of new neurons can be modified by environmental factors in humans to promote healthy brain aging,” he says.


Park, A. (April 5, 2018).  The real reason we aren’t as sharp as we age.  Time Health, (Summer 2018 print edition.)

Thomson, H. (2018). Older people still make new brain cells. New Scientist, 238(3173), 12. Retrieved from


Updated: November 20, 2018 — 3:56 pm
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