We all know that regular exercise has significant physical benefits including things like improved cardiovascular function, better balance, increased strength and weight loss. But, did you know that you can also exercise your way to a better brain? Read on for all the ways exercise benefits your brain health – from preventing cognitive decline, improving memory and more.
Improve your memory and thinking skills
In a study done by the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise (the kind that gets your blood pumping) boosts the size of your hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning. Further, if you choose exercise styles that require more “thinking” like dancing, choreographed cardiovascular workouts or circuit training workouts that require a constant redirection of attention, you can significantly boost your brain health benefits. Recent research has shown that workouts that include both physical and mental demands have a higher impact on cognitive function because they integrate different parts of the brain that control coordination, rhythm, and strategy.
Lift your mood
If you exercise enough to raise your heart rate, you will pump more oxygen to your brain. This helps the body release certain “feel-good” hormones that not only nourish your brain but also lift your mood. Exercise affects many areas within the nervous system which stimulate the production of pleasure chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine that make us feel calm, happy, and euphoric. Now, most of us experience times in our lives when these chemicals are released in response to good events or experiences. But, one of the great things about our bodies is that you don’t have to wait for good times to feel good. You can bring on those good feelings on a regular basis with exercise.
According to research, one new case of dementia is diagnosed every four seconds globally. It is estimated that more than 115 million people will have dementia worldwide by the year 2050.
Exercise reduces insulin resistance and inflammation and stimulates 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. Recent studies have also shown that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.
The Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas recently published research in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience which showed that engaging in physical exercise helps healthy aging adults improve their memory, brain health and physical fitness.
Use it or lose it
Your brain is no different than rest of your body – you either use it or you lose it. So grab your sneakers, hit the gym and give your body and your brain a great workout.