By Ann Lindemann, Senior Health Writer
Common wisdom suggests that exercise is essential for a healthy body, but did you know that it could actually lead to a better brain, too? Exercise triggers the growth of new cell mitochondria, important for a healthy brain. If you are still on the fence regarding the benefits of exercise, consider the compelling proof below. Your brain will thank you!
- Brain Growth – Did you know that as we age brain cell production slows and brain tissue actually shrinks? But alas don’t despair; exercise may actually help to reverse this troublesome trend. In one study of healthy but sedentary people aged 60 – 79, scientists found significant increases in brain volume after six months of aerobic exercise. What’s more, the researchers concluded that better cardio fitness is associated with fewer age-related issues in older people. Unlike stretching or toning exercises, cardio boosts blood flow to the brain, which delivers much-needed oxygen. Did you know that the brain soaks up 20% of all the oxygen in your body?
- Exercise Feeds Your Brain – You know how plant food makes your African violet bloom and grow faster? Well, that’s just how the chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) boosts the growth and proliferation of brain cells. Interestingly, this is most evident in the hippocampus, the region that is primarily responsible for memory and is most at-risk for age-related decline. But here’s the good news: the more you exercise, the more brain-building BDNF you produce!
- Reduces Effects of Stress – While BDNF helps to make the brain younger, other hormones age it. Dubbed the stress hormone, cortisol is often at the root of a jumbled thought process and basic forgetfulness. However, exercise lowers cortisol levels, helping you to think clearer. Scientists believe that it also helps produce new nerve cells in the denate gyrus, the area of the brain linked to the creation of new memories.
- Boosts Your Brain’s Executive Function – Just what is executive function and why is it important? Basically, it’s your brain’s innate ability to focus on complex tasks, to organize, think abstractly and to plan for upcoming events. It also includes working memory, which is essential for tasks like recalling a phone number in your head as you dial. Based on numerous studies, researchers concluded that adults aged 55 to 80 who exercised performed four times better on cognitive tests than control groups who were sedentary. The brain-boosting benefits were most pronounced in those who exercised 30-45 minutes each session for six months or longer. However, great benefits were also seen in as few as four weeks of exercise.