Best Exercise for Growing Brain Cells

Majid Ali, M.D.

There Is One Exercise for Growing Brain Cells, Another for Growing Muscle cells


Limbic Exercise 

In my book, The Ghoraa and Limbic Exercise (1993), I described two main types of exercise, one non-competitive meditative for healthful aging with good brain health and the other competitive, huffing-puffing for building muscles. I introduced the term Limbic Exercise for the first type and Cortical Exercise for the second type. I described the science and philosophy of both types of exercise in detail in my exercise book.

Evidence for Benefits of Limbic Exercise

Much evidence has been published by diligent exercise scientists that validates my distinction between the Limbic and Cortical exercise. On 24 February, 2016, The Journal of Physiology published a most fascinating and informative report by scientists from Finland in which laboratory provided us with incontestable evidence to further support my view of the Limbic and Cortical exercise.

Below, I reproduce the abstract of that report.


* Nokia MS, et al. Physical exercise increases adult hippocampal neurogenesis in male rats provided it is aerobic and sustained. The Journal of Physiology. 24 February, 2016


Aerobic exercise, such as running, has positive effects on brain structure and function, such as adult hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN) and learning. Whether high-intensity interval training (HIT), referring to alternating short bouts of very intense anaerobic exercise with recovery periods, or anaerobic resistance training (RT) has similar effects on AHN is unclear. In addition, individual genetic variation in the overall response to physical exercise is likely to play a part in the effects of exercise on AHN but is less well studied. Recently, we developed polygenic rat models that gain differentially for running capacity in response to aerobic treadmill training. Here, we subjected these low-response trainer (LRT) and high-response trainer (HRT) adult male rats to various forms of physical exercise for 6–8 weeks and examined the effects on AHN. Compared with sedentary animals, the highest number of doublecortin-positive hippocampal cells was observed in HRT rats that ran voluntarily on a running wheel, whereas HIT on the treadmill had a smaller, statistically non-significant effect on AHN. Adult hippocampal neurogenesis was elevated in both LRT and HRT rats that underwent endurance training on a treadmill compared with those that performed RT by climbing a vertical ladder with weights, despite their significant gain in strength. Furthermore, RT had no effect on proliferation (Ki67), maturation (doublecortin) or survival (bromodeoxyuridine) of new adult-born hippocampal neurons in adult male Sprague–Dawley rats. Our results suggest that physical exercise promotes AHN most effectively if the exercise is aerobic and sustained, especially when accompanied by a heightened genetic predisposition for response to physical exercise.

My book, The Ghoraa and Limbic Exercise (1993) can be ordered from or by calling 212-873-2444.

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