What if you shift your thinking on exercise? What if you stop looking at it as a way to lose weight or fix a blood pressure problem? What about viewing exercise instead as a daily means of recharging and revitalisation?
The effects of exercise on weight and high blood pressure can take weeks to become evident. The benefits of exercise for brain health, however, can be felt almost immediately. Blood flow to the brain increases during exercise. That means more oxygen, more nutrients, more of the good stuff your brain needs to help you thrive and accomplish the things that matter to you.
Here are four terrific brain-boosting effects of exercise.
- Helps create new brain cells
Animal studies show that physical activity bulks up the brain, Exercise releases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which regulates the creation of new brain cells. This process is called neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is necessary because the brain starts to shrink slowly after age 30.
Research shows that a variety of activities, ranging from gardening and walking to moderate cycling and even dancing can make a difference to your brain as you get older.
- Active older individuals have significantly more gray matter than their less active peers in areas of the brain responsible for higher-level thinking and memory.
- More gray matter signifies better brain health.
- Individuals who increased their activity level over a five-year period increased their gray matter in areas related to thinking and memory.
- Improves how quickly you absorb and process new information
How rapidly your brain absorbs, evaluates and responds to new data determines your processing speed. Young people outperform people older than 40 on tests of processing speed. The brain’s white matter, which is its wiring, allows this processing to occur by firing messages between brain cells. As you age, white matter begins to shred, slowing messages down.
New research in March 2017 examined the effect of various exercises on the wiring and function of the brains of mostly inactive older people. Thinking tests and MRI brain scans were done before and after six months of supervised exercise. Participants exercised for one hour, three times a week. One group took brisk walks, a second group did stretching, and balance training and the third group danced, learning intricate country-dance choreography.
- Participants who were oldest or were the least active before starting the study had the most visible degeneration of white matter.
- All groups showed significant improvement in thinking tests including processing speed after six months of exercise.
- Encouragingly, those in the dancing group had thicker white matter in the area of the brain linked to memory and processing speed. Dance combines cognitive, physical and social elements and has significant benefits.
- Improves memory
You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to know that the brain slows down, as you get older. Retrieving information from memory gets harder. BDNF released during exercise does more than creating new brain cells.
- It also improves cell survival and reduces inflammation.
- The addition of new cells in the hippocampus as a result of regular exercise promotes the development of short and long-term memories. The hippocampus is the part of the brain involved in memory.
- Exercise reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Is an anti-depressant, regulating mood
Have you ever wondered why people who exercise regularly, seem to have an even temperament? Exercise is a natural anti-depressant. Endorphins are chemicals released in the brain when you exercise.
- Endorphins are natural analgesics, which blunt pain perception and trigger feelings of wellbeing.
- Regular exercise has been proven to lower anxiety and depression, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem.
Research shows that regular exercise is effective in maintaining and enhancing your brain. Every kind of activity counts. Exercise gives you immediate and long-term rewards that add vibrancy to your daily life. Just think, you could be dancing your way to a sharper brain!
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