Most people are aware of the phrase 'use it or lose it' as it is applied to physical fitness.
Below are few reasons why active brain cells are better brain cells:
Active brain cells receive more blood. Scientists have known for quiet a while that active areas of the brain use more energy and therefore demand a greater supply of oxygen and glucose. More blood is directed to these areas in order to meet the demands of the active neurons. As you activate your brain, blood flows to the brain cells that are working, carrying valuable oxygen supply with it. MRI images are used to study blood flow in the brain. They have demonstrated that our brain cells, also known as neurons, are very dependant on oxygen supply. So the more you exercise your brain and activate the neurons, the more blood they will receive. A brain cell that is idle receives less and less blood and eventually dies.
Active brain cells have more connections to other brain cells. Each brain cell connects with the brain environment via rapid firing of electrical pulses. Active brain cells tend to sprout dendrites, which are like small arms that reach out to connect to other cells. A single cell can have as many as 30,000 connections. As a result it becomes part of a highly activated network of neurons. When one of the neurons in the network is activated, the pulse goes through the entire network, activating the rest of the brain cells in it. The bigger the neural network a cell belongs to, the better its chances of activation and survival become.
Active brain cells produce more 'maintenance' substance. Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) is a protein that is manufactured in target cells in your body. It binds to neurons, marking them as differentiated, active, and responsive. Active brain cells enhance the production of NGF, which protects them from being categorized as non-active. So the more often your brain is challenged, exercised and activated, the more NGF it produces.
Active brain cells stimulate the migration of beneficial brain-stem cells. Recent research has shown that new brain cells are generated in a specific area of the brain called the hippocampus. These brain cells can migrate to areas of the brain in where re-enforcement is needed, for example, after a brain injury. These migrating cells are able to imitate the action of the surrounding cells, allowing for some restoration of activity in the damaged area. So, one important key to recovering from injury or cognitive inactivity is to stimulate the areas of the brain that may benefit from this amazing process.