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Mar 24, 2014

The Link Between Exercise and Brain Function

The Link Between Exercise and Brain Function

It’s a well known fact that regular exercise has a wide range of benefits, including improved circulatory health, boosted metabolism, a better night’s sleep, and—perhaps most noticeably—helping you to look your best. But did you know that regular exercise is an important part of keeping your brain healthy as well?

It’s true: More and more information is emerging based on medical research that shows a significant correlation between exercise and human brain function. In fact, in one well-designed study, a year of moderately intense aerobic exercise reversed age related brain decline by the equivalent of 1 to 2 years, and seemed to be especially beneficial for people 55 to 80 years old. And as mentioned in this study, “staying mentally sharp” outranks social security and physical health as the top priority and concern in the United States.”

With this information in mind, where can you begin? How exactly does exercise improve brain health, and what exercises are the most beneficial? Let’s find out.

How Does Exercise Improve Brain Health?

Regular exercise goes a long way toward improving brain function from several different perspectives. First, exercise increases your heart rate, which ultimately pumps additional oxygen to your brain. Exercise also releases chemicals such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which among other things, helps boost brain cell growth and learning capacity. In addition, exercise causes your body to release hormones such as serotonin and dopamine, which improve mood and aid learning, as well as norepinephrine, which improves attention and motivation.

According to a WebMD article, there is even some “preliminary animal research that suggests that exercise can cause new stem cells to grow, refreshing the brain and other body parts.” On top of this, regular exercise works to "train the brain to handle anxiety." It accomplishes this by stimulating the growth of new nerve cells, which prevent fear cells from firing in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that control the fear response.

What Are Some of the Best Exercises for Brain Health?

Whether you’re 18 or 80, you can experience the brain benefits provided by regular exercise, and it’s as easy as talking a short walk.

Low-to-moderate intensity aerobic exercise stimulates your nervous system, which includes activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling. Ideally, you’ll want to stay within 60% to 80% of your maximum heart rate when exercising, although you’ll only need to maintain this for as little as 15 minutes to have a positive impact on your brain’s function. However, keep in mind that, while getting your heart rate up can result in improved brain function, evidence suggests that more complicated exercises, such as those that include some combination of coordination, rhythm, and strategy, may have the biggest impact.

The bottom line is this: Essentially any kind of cardio exercise that elevates your heart rate can be beneficial for your brain’s function. And the more cardio you do (daily if possible), the more physical and mental benefits you’ll likely experience. But it’s important that you don’t overdo it, and instead start slowly and build up to a level you’re comfortable with.

In fact, you can even try it out for yourself tomorrow. Start exercising in the morning to get a “jump” on your day, or if you’re feeling mentally drained at some point in the day, just try doing a few jumping jacks. Whatever your age or activity level, just a little exercise each day can go a long way for your physical and mental health.

How Can I Find Out More About the Link Between Exercise and Brain Health?

If you’re interested in boosting the power of your brain while also improving your overall physical health, Advanced Family Medicine is here to help you realize your goals. Call us today at (425) 453-6838, and let us help put you on the path to success!

Tags: Brain Health, Exercise, Health and Wellness, Stress Relief

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