We are all living through an incredibly stressful time right now with the COVID-19 virus affecting all of our lives. A previous blog I wrote was about how exercise can help reduce stress, and that exercise is as important, or maybe even more important for our brain than for the rest of our body. Any type of exercise or physical work, for that matter, is good for both our body and our mind.
We all know regular exercise is great for our cardiovascular system and that it will strengthen our muscles and even increase our bone density, but a lesser known benefit is that regular exercise can make you smarter and protect your brain from shrinkage as your brain ages.
Research has even revealed that exercise can increase neurogenesis, or the formation of new brain cells, in the brain’s hippocampus. Research has time and time again shown that people who engage in healthy behaviors such as exercise and proper nutrition are less susceptible to the cognitive declines associated with the aging process.
One study published in 2013 looked at healthy behaviors in nearly 2,300 men over the course of thirty years. Researchers looked at the participants’ behaviors and cognitive abilities starting in middle age tracked their progress throughout old age.
The researchers found that men who practiced certain healthy behaviors were around 60 percent less likely to experience cognitive impairment and dementia as they aged. These healthy behaviors included not smoking, maintaining a healthy BMI, regularly exercising, consuming lots of vegetables and fruits and consuming a low to moderate amount of alcohol.
Here are 5 ways that exercise impacts your brain- (from the December 2016 Team HOTSHOT web site): http://www.teamhotshot.com/blog/5-ways-exercise-impacts-brain/
- Exercise helps the brain learn and retain – In various human and animal studies, results show that exercise not only helps the brain retain information (i.e., support/improve memory), but also helps the brain acquire new information. While some variances in research findings exists, much of this discrepancy is attributed to the type and duration of exercise prescribed to the study participants.
- Consistent exercise helps avoid dementia – There is still a great deal we do not know about dementia. However, scientists and doctors are confident in a few preventative measures. Chief among them is healthy living: eat right, don’t smoke, and exercise. Exercise has been shown to slow the effects and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s diseases. Even once these terrible diseases strike, exercise has been shown to slow the debilitating functional decline they bring about.
- Exercise can help ease and prevent depression – Exercise has been shown effective in treating depression and, interestingly, seems to work in a dose-dependent manner much like anti-depressants. The more exercise, the greater the impact. While more research is needed, early studies also point to exercise as a mechanism to avoid the onset or development of depression.
- Exercise mixed through your day helps concentration – Breaking up tasks such as working on a project or preparing a presentation with some aerobic-style exercise helps improve executive functions like tuning out distractions. Don’t worry, you don’t have to run a marathon over the course of your work day. Just 15-20 minutes of moderate engagement every few hours seems to make a measurable difference.
- Reduce stress, improve life – While many people self-report a stress reduction after exercise, some scans seem to show an actual, physical shrinking in the amygdala—a part of the brain strongly implicated in processing stress, anxiety, and fear. As nice as stress-free living can be in general, it turns out less stress leads to living longer! That’s right, increased stress is strongly linked to increased occurrence of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and memory loss.
If you want to help reduce the stress that this pandemic is causing, and if you want to build a better mind, start by working on your physical health first. Go for a walk, start incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet and try to give up any bad habits like tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption. Some of these might be more difficult than others, but your brain will thank you for years to come.
If you have any questions about this blog or about your health in general, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org