Exercise & The Brain
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.
Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t. “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,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.
So what should you do?
Start exercising! Any kind of movement has benefits because your body is designed to move. Find activities you enjoy, and do them often!
How much exercise is required to improve memory? 1/2 an hour of moderate activity most days of the week is the minimum amount of exercise shown to be beneficial. Don’t forget that household activities can count as well, such as intense floor mopping, raking leaves, or anything that gets your heart pumping so much that you break out in a light sweat.
Remember that you have options based on your personality and what you prefer when it comes to exercise. From increasing your TDEE (your daily energy expenditure through accumulated movements throughout each day like gardening, housework, etc., to working out in the gym....you have opitons. Also, many people love working out with other people, while others want to be alone. Group fitness or working out with a trainer are other great options to keep you motivated.
Whatever exercise and motivators you choose, commit to establishing exercise as a habit, almost like taking a prescription medication. After all, they say that exercise is medicine, and that can go on the top of anyone’s list of reasons to work out. Make it a lifestyle for life!