Millions of people exercise to lose weight and look good. Whether we’re burning calories on the treadmill or hiking in the great outdoors, we’re all hoping to shed some weight. But did you know you can exercise for brain health? Working out can alter our brain, helping us retain memories better and also improves cognitive skills.
Exercise to Improve Your Brain
It was reported in a Harvard Health Letter dated 2014 that exercising helps people improve their memory and mental faculties, both through direct and indirect methods.
Why does exercise help the brain?
Scientists believe that exercise helps the brain because of how working out decreases insulin resistance, lowers inflammation and promotes the release of growth factors. These growth factors are chemicals found in the brain that affects brain cells’ health, plus they are also responsible for forming new blood vessels in the brain. These same chemicals furthermore increase the survival rate of fresh brain cells.
And how does exercise indirectly help our brains?
Sticking to a regular exercise routine positively affects sleep and mood. In turn, people feel less stressed and anxious. Numerous studies have shown how lack of sleep and constantly feeling stressed have significant adverse impact on the way people think.
New Brain Connections
The human brain is similar to all the other muscles in the body. If you don’t work out your arm muscles, for instance, expect the muscles in this group to grow weak and shrink. The brain is no different. The same way it helps to hit the gym if you want your arm and leg muscles to grow, using a brain fitness program to improve the neural connections in the brain can do wonders.
That said, it’s not just mental exercises like playing chess that can improve the brain, physical exercise can positively impact our minds as well. Aerobic exercise is especially thought to be one of the best types of exercises to help the brain function better, both from a behavioural and molecular level. A study conducted by the Department of Exercise Science located at the University of Georgia reported that a mere 20-minute cardiovascular workout will help people process information faster while improving their memory.
Other Benefits of Exercise
There are several ways exercise affects our brains. Running, swimming, sports and the like increases the heart rate. When this happens, the heart pumps more precious oxygen to our brains. Working out also helps the body release different types of hormones. These hormones provide a healthy environment that promotes the growth of cells in the brain.
There are other ways exercise and brain function are correlated. When you put on your running shoes and take a jog, the exercise stimulates your brain’s plasticity. This happens because cardiovascular activities stimulate growth of new neural connections between the cells in your brain. New research conducted by the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) proved that exercise promoted growth in the brain, specifically in allowing the brain to produce brand new neuronal connections more efficiently.
Exercise and Our Moods
The brain affects our moods. When it comes to behavioural impact, exercise can act as a sort of antidepressant for the brain. Have you ever heard of “runner’s high”? People who do moderate cardiovascular exercise such as running experience decrease stress because certain hormones–like cortisol, that make us feel more burned out–decreases after a good workout.
A study conducted in Sweden proved how the feel-good effect of exercising was linked to an increase in cell growth, specifically in the hippocampus part of the brain. This is the area responsible for our memory-retention and how quickly we learn new skills.
How Often Should You Work Out
Now that you know there is a significant link between exercise and brain function, you may be wondering how often you should workout to reap the cognitive benefits. It’s recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that adults should aim for a minimum of two and a half hours of exercise each week. This should include moderate cardio workouts plus two days of muscle strengthening.
It is unfortunate that only about half of adults in the United States aged 18 and over actually meet the minimum Physical Activity Guidelines for cardiovascular exercise. When it comes to muscle training requirements, only a quarter of American adults meet the minimum standard. No matter what your age or fitness level is, research has shown time and time again that exercise definitely leads to mental improvements.
Types of Exercise
Scientists agree that there is no magic formula when it comes to exercising. We reap what we sow Instead of working harder, it’s better to work smarter. Not all exercises are created equal. Walking is a great choice because it’s a cardiovascular activity that can be done by almost anyone. It strengthens your heart and lets you burn calories. Another wonderful advantage of walking is how it can be done anywhere and anytime. A quick walk can burn a maximum of 500 calories each hour while clearing your head and providing the brain needed oxygen.
Interval training is another form of exercise that is much advised by experts. It matters not whether you’re new to exercising or a professional, using interval training methods is sure to boost anyone’s fitness level. To do interval training, vary your pace while you’re exercising. This stimulates your body to adapt, adding more power to your workouts. Increase the intensity or pace of your workout—be it running, or swimming, and more–for about one or two minutes, then slow down for about two to ten minutes.
The effect of exercise on our brain is no small matter. Exercise has been proven again and again to improve the connectivity of the neurons in our brain, helping us think better and remember details at a sharper rate. Also, vigorous and intense workouts can do even more. A vigorous workout of half an hour helps people react faster and retain new words more efficiently. While aiming for a leaner body is a fantastic reason to work out, when you exercise for brain health you improve your outlook in life and will be able to lead a significantly more productive and happier life.