Beyond Looks - Why Exercise Keeps Your Brain Healthy
Few people are as synonymous with body image as Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, the former Mr Universe, film star and politician, has long been aware of the connection between mind and body. Schwarzenegger once poignantly stated; “training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit.” While the definition of spirit is dependent on your beliefs, scientific research continues to confirm the remarkable benefits that exercise can have on developing and maintaining a stronger, brighter, better functioning mind.
Aerobic Exercise Stimulates New Brain Neurons
Research demonstrates that exercise has the capacity to increase blood flow to your brain and stimulate neurogenesis – the synthesis of new brain neurons. One such study, published in The Journals of Gerontology, found that a six-month running program, performed at 60-70% of maximum heart rate, significantly enhanced neurogenesis in brain regions relating to higher order cognition, attention and memory within older participants. Scientists believe that by performing exercise, we can stimulate this brain renewing process, virtue of the release of a growth factor called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). At the current time, research indicates that aerobic exercise (such as jogging, running, cycling, cross-training or rowing) is the most effective form of exercise to stimulate neurogenesis.
Strength Training – a Memory Stimulator
While regular aerobic exercise appears to be highly beneficial for a healthy mind, strength training has also been shown to offer benefits to your brain, including enhanced memory and protection against cognitive decline. Research published in Acta Psychologica revealed that 50 repetitions of leg extensions, enhanced the performance in a memory test performed two days later. The study showed that resistance training stimulated the release of norepinephrine, eliciting a stressor which is associated with enhanced short-term memory. Furthermore, a study published in 2016 analysed the effects of resistance training twice a week compared to stretching exercises, for six months, in people with age-related cognitive decline. Resistance training was found to enhance cognitive performance at the end of the test, with the positive effects still evident after 12 months.
Exercise Creates a Brighter Mind
Acute exercise elicits a secretion of hormones, stimulates the nervous system, enhances brain activity and triggers a cascade of endorphins in our brains. The corresponding effects have been proven by research, to include higher self-esteem, a reduction in stress and anxiety, better sleep, increased workplace productivity and positive effects if you suffer from mild to moderate depression. Ultimately, when you exercise – you feel good!
Exercise Combats Brain Ageing
Exercise has been proven to prevent age-related muscle loss and help maintain cardiac function as we age – and science is now suggesting that staying active offers us similar benefits when it comes to brain fitness. Indeed, research published in Neurology in May 2016, studied the effects of physical activity performed by ageing people in their leisure time, over five years. Regular exercise was found to slow down the cognitive decline witnessed by people who didn't exercise. Staying active throughout life also significantly reduces your risk of conditions such as heart disease and type II diabetes, which are both also associated with a higher risk for cognitive impairment.
Ultimately, the evidence that exercise goes beyond looks and also keeps your brain healthy – is compelling. If you're seeking optimal results, both now and in the future, the evidence suggests you should begin to incorporate physical activity into your weekly regime. With this in mind, a holistic approach to an exercise program with varied forms of physical activity is a great way to stay motivated!