Exercise and Our Brain Health
Exercise and Our Brain Health
April 5, 2021 | Health | Lifestyle
You know how important it is to get your recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity in a week.
This helps to improve your physical fitness!
However, what you might not realize is that with every step on your walk or every mile you cross on the treadmill, you’re enhancing your cognitive fitness. Recent studies suggest that the activities you do to improve your body also benefit your brain. Read more about it below.
Exercise and the brain
When you think of the brain, you don’t really think of it as a muscle. But it is! And while you can’t necessarily enlarge it through exercise, like your biceps or calf muscles, you can improve it. How you ask? Well, exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. Directly, the benefits of exercise come from its ability to reduce inflammation and stimulate the release of growth factors. These growth factors are 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. Three very important ways to improve our mental health.
Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
Physical activity may benefit the brain in a number of ways, such as:
- Promoting cardiovascular health
- Improving blood flow to the brain
- Reducing inflammation
- Lowering levels of stress hormones
Exercise may provide physical benefits to the brain, too!
We mentioned that you can’t increase the size of your brain through exercise the way you can increase the size of other muscles. However, that’s somewhat incorrect. It is possible to actually increase the volume size of your grey matter. By no means does this mean you should try to lift heavy items with your head to “bulk up” you brain. That’s not exactly how it works. Yet, recent studies have shown that exercise can increase the thickness of the cerebral cortex and improving the integrity of your white matter, improve the nerve fibers that connect areas of the brain, and promote neuroplasticity, which is your brain’s ability to form new neural connections. In by doing all of this, of course your brain is going to get a little bigger! What’s especially encouraging is you don’t necessarily have to go overboard or meet the physical activity guidelines in order to benefit your brain. In one recent study, researchers concluded that even among people who did not meet the activity guidelines, each hour of light-intensity physical activity and achieving 7,500 steps or more daily was associated with higher total brain volume. This was “equivalent to approximately 1.4 to 2.2 years less brain aging.”
How mental “exercise” also protects your brain
As you put your body through mild anaerobic and aerobic exercise, make sure you give your brain a workout, too. Research suggests that engaging in mentally stimulating activities increases your ability to withstand adverse brain changes before you even exhibit symptoms. Experts believe that people who participate in or enjoy more brain-stimulating activities may be more resilient to these negative effects. Experts believe that by stimulating the brain we can create more connections between brain cells and brain areas.
Maintaining a robust social life and staying socially and intellectually engaged with others also has been shown to bolster your brain function. By communicating with others, you challenge your mind to interpret verbal and visual cues and respond to them accordingly. Social interaction also can improve your mood and, potentially, ward off depression, which can adversely affect your cognition.
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