Exercise keeps you slim, toned and healthy. We all know that moving around comes with major benefits to our body, but did you know that exercise is also essential for brain health? And we’re not talking crossword puzzles and memory games; we mean good old-fashioned physical activity. Studies have shown that exercise can increase your memory, boost your mood and keep you feeling calm, cool and collected.
Because your brain is your most valuable asset, here’s a quick rundown of the best types of exercise for keeping you sharp as a tack for the long haul.
Aerobic exercise may be your brain’s best bet
Aerobic exercise has long been touted as the key to a healthy heart. But researchers at Harvard say that boosting your blood flow, whether through jogging, biking or swimming, can also have a significant impact on memory, mood and cognition.
Here are a few ways that aerobic exercise promotes brain health:
- Exercise helps improve memory and thinking somewhat indirectly. Working out reduces inflammation and insulin resistance, and helps stimulate the growth of new blood cells.
- Exercise improves blood flow, leading to the release of chemicals in the brain that may keep cells healthy and alive in the long term.
- Exercise reduces anxiety and stress, and leads to an improved sleep cycle. These issues can cause cognitive problems, but aerobic exercise helps keep them at bay.
- According to the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, exercise may yield healthy patterns of glucose metabolism in the brain, which is a key sign of healthy brain function.
As a point of reference, aerobic exercise includes types of exercise we loosely refer to as cardio. That includes gym equipment like the treadmill or the elliptical, biking, spin classes, dancing, walking or cross-country skiing.
Is running good for your brain?
Running activates the hippocampus, a part of the brain linked to your ability to learn. According to a study published in the Journal of Physiology, London, running had a greater effect on this area of the brain than resistance training,high-intensityy interval training (HIIT) and many other forms of exercise. If that’s not a reason to hit the pavement, we don’t know what is.
Beyond the cognitive benefits associated with exercise, physical activity has also been shown to boost your mental health. In one major study, the Journal of Sports Medicine found that aerobic exercise had a profound effect on patients suffering from clinical depression.
The study revealed that walking on the treadmill just 30 minutes per day decreased symptoms of depression, in as little as 10 consecutive days of performing the action.
People without major depression can also benefit from moving. Exercise works to release endorphins and can take your mind off stressors like problems with work or your relationships. The Mayo Clinic recommends getting 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 times per week to reap the full brain benefits.
That said, if you’re dealing with symptoms of depression or anxiety, it’s wise to check in with your doctor. Exercise can definitely help, but some people may need additional treatment to keep symptoms at bay.
Resistance training and aerobics
Resistance training combined with aerobic activity is a winning combination, especially for older adults who experience brain function decline. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, these two activities worked together to boost the brain power of study participants over the age of 50.
Resistance training is a type of exercise that focuses on moving your muscles against an opposing force. This includes working out with dumbbells or resistance bands and doing body weight exercises. Resistance training doubles down on brain benefits by increasing your heart rate.
While more evidence is needed to establish a definitive link between brain health and weightlifting, older people should consider adding strength training to their routine regardless. Increasing strength has been shown to reduce the symptoms of diabetes, arthritis and heart disease, as well as stave off osteoporosis.
Think about how many major studies highlight the power of exercise. Yes, it’s a tremendous amount—which should give you a clue that exercise is essential for keeping your body in working order. And although it’s easy to think of exercise as primarily benefitting your heart and internal systems, physical activity has also been shown to boost your brain health.
Your brain is your greatest resource, so lace up your sneakers and get exercising. Even if you don’t feel a little smarter for doing so, you’ll definitely be in better spirits than before you got your blood pumping.