The Connection Between Exercise and Brain Health
We know it is important to exercise in order to keep our bodies healthy and fit. Along with a proper diet, and decent sleep, it seems like one of those ‘no brainer’ things to do. However, it is not the only thing that we can do to live happy long lives. However, did you know that exercise has its benefits in small ways alongside just regulating your body weight? Exercise, even just in light amounts, can be a benefit to the most important organ in your body, your brain. According to the latest neurology studies, that is very much the case. But how do they know that? And, how can it be measured or quantified?
Let’s find out.
This is Your Brain
Your brain serves as the powerhouse of your body. Aside from its value as a delicious treat to zombies, your brain practically dictates everything about your conscious and subconscious. It is made up of three major parts: the brain stem, the cerebellum, and cerebrum.
The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain. The cerebrum is composed of the left and right hemispheres. Two halves that make a whole. It performs higher functions like interpreting touch, vision, hearing, speech, emotions, reason, and fine motor skills.
The cerebellum is that small part that sits below the cerebrum. It coordinates things like balance, posture, and muscle movement.
Those two are connected to the brainstem, which connects the brain to the spinal cord. This connection transmits data to the rest of the body for both conscious and unconscious movement. It is also mostly responsible for automatic functions such as breathing, temperature, sleep, digestion, sneezing, coughing, swallowing, and blood flow.
This is Your Brain on Memory
The cerebrum is made up of distinct parts, such as lobes and strips. While there are countless parts both in the inner and outer parts of the brain, we are going to cover the parts that have to do with the study, the parts that are concerned with the formation of memory.
- Prefrontal Cortex
- Cingulate Gyrus
What is interesting about some of these, is that they control other processes too. For instance, the amygdala also responsible for the detection of fear and preparing for emergency events. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for learning complex thoughts, personality expression, decision making and moderating social behavior. These are the parts of the brain that make and relay memories.
What does this anatomy lesson have to do with brain health? And specifically, why does exercise do anything to help? Well, those are the areas of the brain that are stimulated by exercise.
Exercise and the Prevention of Cognitive Dementia
A recent study was published in January of 2019, to a peer-reviewed journal for neurologists. Their goal of the study was to determine if regular aerobic exercise made any positive impact on older adults with cognitive impairments. This was the thought process, according to the publishers of the experiment, “It is widely believed that known risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) are also risk factors for dementia and late-life cognitive decline. Because there is considerable overlap in risk factors for CVD and dementia, strategies designed to reduce CVD risk also may be effective in improving neurocognition and reducing the risk of developing dementia.”
There were other studies like this before, but their predecessors noticed the lacking in their representation of their patients, people who were suffering from cognitive difficulties, without the severity of full-blown dementia.
They gathered a data pool of 160 older adult patients who voluntarily applied from Alzheimer and Aging research institutes.
The scientists split the participants into a couple of groups, one with dietary changes, one with an exercise regimen with no dietary changes, and one with just an exercise regimen. From there, they subjected the patients to a series of cognitive tests.
The scientists running the experiment discovered that” participants who engaged in walking three times a week for six months “demonstrated improved performance on a standard battery of neurocognitive tests of executive function.”
This falls in line with what Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School had to say on the matter a few years ago. “Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions.” In plain English, this means that when someone exercises on a regular basis, their brain is more likely to grow and function. Specifically, the parts of your brain that focus on memory. How does that happen?
This is further explained by Harvard professional, Heidi Godman. “Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.”
Walk With Me
So, what can you do to jump-start your brain health? How much exercise do you need? 120 minutes of moderate exercise or, half an hour at least 4 days of the week. And it doesn’t have to be walking either. If you want, you can ride a bike, swim, jog with a partner, or learn to do any other type of sport. The world is your oyster and you and your brain deserve to be part of it. Even if the idea seems kind of silly at first, the right amount of exercise can make anybody look and feel better.
Aside: Also, if you want to further improve your cognition, think of doing a couple of other brain-friendly activities. Put your brain to work by solving a crossword puzzle. Or maybe stimulate it by reading a book or try some sudoku if you prefer numbers. Or, play a trivia game once in a while. Trust me, it will do you favors down the line.