We know there are plenty of reasons why we should exercise, whether it is to help reduce our risks of stroke and heart disease and to help lose weight and improve our mood. There is another reason to exercise and this one has to do with your brain. Did you know that exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills? (1) An increasing number of studies point to the importance of regular exercise for boosting brain function and protecting against cognitive impairment at any age. Oxygen related changes and nerve processing in the brain has been shown to correlate with better memory and brain function as people age. Anything we can do to increase the size of the hippocampus is a must, as this is the brain area involved in memory and learning.
Researchers say one new case of dementia is detected every four seconds globally. They estimate that by the year 2050, more than 115 million people will have dementia worldwide. (1) People who exercise regularly have about half the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia than sedentary people. (2) It isn’t just about treating a disease, normal aging contributes to a decrease in memory and how quickly we learn new things.
Exercise has an indirect and direct relationship with the brain.
The direct effects include:
- Aiding in the ability to reduce insulin resistance
- Reducing inflammation
- Stimulating the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells
Indirectly, the benefits of exercise include:
- Improving mood and sleep
- Reducing stress and anxiety
Exercise has been shown to improve the plasticity of the brain, which is responsible for rewiring its circuits based on everyday encounters — with people, problems, and information. It’s vital for acquiring and using knowledge and skills and adapting to changing environments and circumstances. Exercise floods the brain with a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps new brain cells sprout, grow, and thrive. A major outcome of this brain cell cultivation is an enhanced ability to learn — and learn at a faster rate. (2)
Research has found that exercise needs to be aerobic in order to promote positive brain effects so a mix of cardiovascular and resistance training is key.
- Vigorous activities are a great way to work the brain as the complex nature of the exercises involve complex motor skills. Racquetball, rock climbing and snowboarding are a few examples.
- Changing up your workout routine is a good way to keep your brain challenged- as well as keeping your body in shape
- If possible, get a workout in the morning before you need to be productive or early afternoon to make the most of the rest of your day
There isn’t an exact amount or intensity of exercise that links the improvement of brain function, only that physical activity does improve it. So it is important to make an effort every day to be active, whether it is taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work, doing some gardening or yard work and forgoing some tv time to take a walk around the block.
If you have any questions on how to get started with an exercise program, get in contact with us.
- “Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, Thinking Skills” Accessed 12, October 2015. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110
- “3 Ways Exercise Feeds Your Brain”. Accessed 12, October 2015. The American Council on Exercise. http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/fitness-programs-article/3194/ACEFit-workout-advice-and-exercise-tips/
- “Getting Closer to Understanding how Exercise Keeps Brains Young”. Accessed 12, October 2015. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/getting-closer-to-understanding-how-exercise-keeps-brains-young-201509048246
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