Exercise Your Way to a Healthier Brain
Most people are aware of the benefits of regular physical activity. Not only does exercise help maintain a healthy weight and keep a body strong and fit, it has been shown to decrease your risk for a number of diseases, including heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes and osteoporosis, just to name a few. The importance of exercise in maintaining a healthy body can’t be overstated.
But what about our minds? Does exercise help us maintain a healthy brain? Research says the answer is an overwhelming “Yes!” In a recent study published in Neurology, participants who reported high levels of physical activity had less cognitive decline over a five-year period than those who reported no to light exercise. The difference between the two groups was equivalent to 10 years of aging.
In another study involving more than 600 people in Scotland, researchers discovered that people in their 70s who participated in physical exercise had less brain shrinkage than those were more sedentary. They also had fewer signs of aging in the brain overall, including better brain circuitry connections. University of British Columbia researchers discovered that regular aerobic exercise – like running, swimming, or biking – appeared to increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in learning and verbal memory.
Exercise helps improve brain health in a number of ways. First, it increases blood flow to the brain, which delivers oxygen and removes waste. It has also been shown to increase the growth of blood vessels in the brain. Studies have also shown that people who are physically active have more acetylcholine receptors in the brain, a key player in neural communication. Second, regular exercise helps stimulate brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is responsible for helping the growth and proliferation of brain cells. Finally, exercise improves mood and sleep, which help reduce stress and anxiety, which can frequently lead to cognitive impairment.
Not only does exercise keep your brain from shrinking, it may help ward off diseases like Alzheimer’s and other dementias. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing the disease by 50 percent.
And for those who think they simply don’t have enough time in the day to exercise, we have some good news and bad news for you. The good news is that even moderate exercise can provide amazing benefits. In a study done by the University of Georgia, researchers discovered that even brief workouts – as little as 20 minutes a day – improve memory. In another study of seniors, those who reported that they exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week, reduced their risk of vascular-related dementia by 40 percent and cognitive impairment due to any reason by 60 percent. The bad news? You no longer have a reason to put off exercising.