How Exercise Helps Your Brain Stay Sharp
When we think about exercise, we often think about the ways it can improve our physical appearance and cardiovascular health, but what about our brains? The brain is the most complex organ in the human body and it can benefit from exercise in numerous ways. June is Brain Awareness month, so let’s explore how exercise can help your brain stay sharp!
How Exercise Improves Overall Brain Health
The benefits of exercise on the brain are numerous and there are so many positive things that happen when we get active. The production of new brain cells decreases as we age, and exercising is being studied as a way to reverse that process. Research has found that cardiovascular and aerobic exercise, in particular, are associated with fewer age-related changes in the brain, especially in older individuals. This is because cardiovascular exercise increases blood flow to the brain, delivering a boost of oxygen that is much needed to keep brain cells alive and well.
Exercise also helps to improve your brain’s cognitive abilities which include tasks like abstract thinking, organization and working memory. Research has shown that making a simple lifestyle choice to add in daily exercise can help prevent dementia and improve overall brain health. In fact, one study found that adults aged 55 to 80 who exercised for 30 to 45 minutes on a regular basis performed 4 times better on cognitive tests than those that didn’t.
One of the most widely known benefits of exercise on the brain is its ability to reduce depression, anxiety and stress. When you engage in exercise your brain releases endorphins, most commonly dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, which all play an important part in regulating mood. Working out on a regular basis can positively impact the amount of serotonin your brain produces, which boosts your overall sense of well-being as well as your overall mood. Exercising can also help balance stress related hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. High levels of cortisol are often associated with a condition like panic disorder and high levels of adrenaline can be a detriment to your health. Keeping these balanced keeps your stress levels and mood on an even keel, helping you to feel better overall.
How to Choose the Right Exercise
- As a general rule, good cardiovascular exercise = good brain exercise.
- Engage in aerobic activities like walking, jogging or dancing.
- Get active in the morning. Studies have shown that morning exercise can help you to retain new information and improve your reaction to complex situations.
- Try a circuit workout. This keeps your heart rate up while redirecting your attention to different activities.
- Chill out with things like yoga or tai chi. These activities calm the body, which in turn calms the mind and relieves stress.
- Focus on total body fitness and work to include exercises that improve balance, flexibility and aerobic fitness.
Overall, don’t stress out over what exercise is best or sticking to a rigid routine of exercise. Getting active is an important takeaway, so do whatever exercise you want. Take a walk, go for a run or hike, take a dance class, go for a swim or contact me for a personal training session. All of these things will help you to reap the many benefits of physical activity, both physical AND mental.