I heard somewhere that balancing (i.e. on one leg) promotes dendritic growth? Is this true and could you point me in the direction of some related articles?
Thanks for the question! If balance training does in fact stimulate dentrite growth, I am unaware of it. I could not find any information related to dendrite growth from any type of balance work. If you would like to take on the task of finding the information may I suggest looking in the professional journals in the neural and orthopedic area. This is where most of my time was spent to try and find an answer for you.
However, here is some information that may help you get started understanding neural development and dendrites. The nervous system is an enormously complex network of connections. Most research related information deals with the developing nervous system, not the mature, well developed system. This may be one of the arguments for a well, constructed Physical Education course in young children and helping them finish their neural development with optimal results.
As you probably know, the nervous system consists of the brain, spinal cord (central nervous system) and the neural branches that run off the spine (peripheral nervous system) called cranial nerves and spinal nerves. These branches then “run out” to their terminal destination. The two nerve types consist of neurons & glial cells. Neurons transmit impulses and glial cells interact with the neurons. The picture below illustrates a neuron, you can see the cell body (the soma) has dendrites branching out, and an axon leads down to the terminal buttons. Dendrites “hook up” with other neurons and the network of information processing is formed. They say a picture is worth a 1000 words.
Each connection between dendrites & other neurons creates synapses for information to be processed through. You may have between neuron—neuron connections, neuron--muscle cell connections or neuron--gland (hormone secretion) connections. Where the dendrite hooks up with whatever type of cell, there forms a synapse. That junction has a small space between them, which is called the synaptic cleft. This area has many different types of chemicals that float through it. The chemicals are referred to as neural transmitters.
Although I have not found the evidence for dendrite growth that you are referring to it does not mean it does not exist. The brain is very plastic. This means the brain has a great ability to adapt to different things; be it injury or training stimulus. The spinal cord & peripheral nervous system is less plastic as seen by nerve injuries. I am uncertain as to how dendrite growth plays a part in adaptability, but given time some of the red hot researchers in this area will let us know. Thanks for the question and good luck.