The Effects of Exercise on Your Brain
Everyone knows that physical exercise is important for helping your body stay in shape. However, what you may not know is that it plays a large part in helping your mind stay in shape too. In the past few years, scientists have discovered that physical exercise can do more for your brain than thinking does. This means that you can get rid of your mental-training games and instead take a stroll around the block.
Just like all organs and muscles, the brain is a tissue, and as such, its function declines with underuse and age. Beginning in our late 20s, the majority of us will start losing about 1% of the volume of our hippocampus--an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Fortunately, physical exercise can help slow or even reverse this process and leave us with a healthier brain.
Physical exercise helps your brain stay sharp and has positive effects on both a molecular and behavioral level. Even exercising briefly for 20 minutes can facilitate information processing and memory functions. Physical exercise increases the heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain and increases blood flow, especially in the hippocampus. In addition to increased blood flow, exercise positively affects the hippocampus with more cell growth. This is a result of a drop in stress hormones, which produces an antidepressant effect, also known as a ‘runner’s high.’
Other effects on the brain as a result of physical exercise include a release in hormones (which provide nourishment and growth for cells), increased nutrient delivery, and increased growth factors in the brain. Exercise also makes it easier to grow new neuronal connections between cells in many important cortical areas of the brain. In addition, executive control processes, such as multi-tasking and planning, are most positively affected from exercise compared to other regions of the brain.
Physical exercise can benefit the brain functions of all ages. It improves children’s academic performance and helps maintain mental abilities in old age. A study found that when 120 65-year-old men and women were assigned to a walking program for a year, they achieved the brains of a 63-year-old, proving that it is possible to slow the effects of aging through physical exercise. Exercise can also prevent and possibly cure neurological diseases.
Aerobic exercise is especially helpful in keeping your brain in shape. Aerobic exercise, which is also known as ‘cardio,’ is any kind of physical exercise that is of relatively low activity. This can include running, jogging, brisk walking, cycling, or swimming. Aerobic exercise repairs damaged brain cells and improves brain functions. In addition, studies have found that people who participate in aerobic exercise have greater scores on neuropsychological functions and performance tests compared to people who focus on flexibility and strength training.
Here are some tips that will help you keep your brain in shape:
- If you’re feeling mentally exhausted, do jumping jacks. It will help reboot your brain and give you the energy you need to keep going.
- Choose an activity that brings coordination and cardiovascular exercise together, such as dancing.
- Exercise in the morning right after you get up. This will help boost your brain activity and will prepare you for the stresses of the day. It will also increase your retention of new information and will help you react better to tough situations.
- Remember that anything good for your heart will be even better for your brain.