Exercise for the brain: does it really work? Does exercise help people think more clearly? Is there an optimum amount of exercise for the brain? And if so, how much? These are just a few questions that arise when considering the impact that exercise can have on brain function and brain fitness.
Exercise for the brain: does it work? Exercise has been proven in numerous studies to have positive effects on physical and mental health. For the aging population, the impact of physical activity translates directly into keeping muscle mass intact and continuing to stimulate the brain-body link. But do the effects of exercise necessarily extend to the brain? Studies of brain injury victims suggest that even mild traumatic brain injury can result in a decrease in verbal and non-verbal functions, along with a decline in memory, attention, and concentration.
But what about the impact of repetitive physical activities, such as those done in sports like football and basketball? Physical contact can result not only in injuries but a decline in brain function as well. Repeated movements affecting the brain can lead to atrophy (or shrinkage) of brain cells and tissues. This can result in poor memory and difficulty with concentration, attention, and response. Other physical activities can also lead to depression and other emotional disorders, such as anxiety and panic attacks.
Positive Impact On Brain Health
So how does one know if the brain needs exercise? The answer is simple: any activity that changes the length and/or width of your muscles is going to have a positive impact on brain health. In fact, exercise physiologists report, “Many patients with mild brain injuries receive complete recovery from their injuries despite significant declines in their physical activity levels.” The seven activities listed below are all known to support brain health:
Movement supports multiple brain functions at once. Even activities as simple as walking or gardening can have significant benefits for those with brain damage. Regular activity can reduce the risks of stroke and other diseases that affect the brain. The act of movement itself has been shown to “recover” the brain from the ravages of aging. And studies have shown that those who are more active have higher IQ scores than those who are less active.
Exercise Releases Brain
Exercise releases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is believed to be responsible for the protective effect of the hippocampus on brain health. The hippocampus is part of the brain’s memory and learning hierarchy. It is also where most of the nerves linking the retina to the brain and the spinal cord exit. There is considerable evidence that exercise supports the maintenance and production of a protein, called BNDF, in the hippocampus. BNDF helps maintain nerve cells and neurons and has been shown to protect against dementia and other diseases including stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
As we age, many of us do not get the recommended exercise requirements of thirty minutes every day. In addition, there are a lot of things that take place in our lives that are highly stressful and interfere with the enjoyment of a good time with our family and friends. Many of us find it difficult to get the brain moving to reduce the stress that we have in our lives. Exercising for brain fitness is an important first step in improving memory, mood, and other aspects of mental well being. Regular physical exercise is also essential in helping to prevent depression and other mental disorders.
Of course, everyone has different needs. In order for exercise to be effective, it should be done in a way that is fun and exciting for the participants. It also helps if the activity is done in moderation. Regular exercise for those with Alzheimer’s is an important first step in improving brain function. With the right modifications, physical exercise can provide substantial benefit in helping the brain resist aging and disease.