Is exercise better for your brain than your body?
Recent research has put doubt into the theory that exercise is the best prescription for weight loss. With this being such a popular dogma for so many years, and many invested parties, I expect this argument to continue to stretch. It’s very much debatable from either side.
Regardless of the outcome behind that question, one thing is clear: exercise has profound effects on the brain.
Regular exercise can not only improve memory and thinking skills but can actually lead to change the physical size of the brain, particularly in the hippocampus, our memory centre.
Researchers from the University of Dublin showed in study on college students high intensity exercise increased cognitive performance and controlled test scores. So for those doing exams, do some hill sprints before sitting down to revise!
Exercise aids mental performance both directly and indirectly.
Directly it helps stimulate the release of growth factors that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
Indirectly, by improving mood and reducing anxiety, factors that can otherwise lead to cognitive impairment
Exercise and BDNF
Until a decade ago the brain was thought to stop growing soon after adulthood. Instead it continues to grow through a process of neurogenesis, formation of new neurons. This process is increased by brain derived neurotrophic factor, the most potent growth factor for neurogenesis. Higher BDNF levels are associated with slower rate of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Exercise is one the best ways to boost BDNF levels, even more so than any nutritional supplement. Evolutionary this is important as it is found to be conserved in other species, so even rats that were tested after running on a treadmill showed higher levels of BDNF.
Intense exercise will temporarily increase BDNF, however it is produced at high levels consistently with regular exercise.
Tiny habits to increase your exercise routine
Higher fitness levels are protective against loss of hippocampus volume, and therefore memory function. Aerobic exercise is neuroprotective and starting a exercise regimen, even later in life, is not futile for enhancing cognition.
Like all new habits start simple, and start small.
Just walk, 30 minutes each day.
Don’t be tempted to start with too big a task, chose something that you can do without effort everyday and build up from there. Read more about habits HERE
Physical activity does not influence obesity risk: time to clarify the public health message
Aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume in older women with probable mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month randomised controlled trial
Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases BDNF in the serum of young adult males.
Exercise training increases size of hippocampus
Exercise impacts brain-derived neurotrophic factor plasticity by engaging mechanisms of epigenetic regulation