I think most people know by now that exercise is good for us, and not just for the more obvious parts of our bodies. Our brain can benefit substantially from regular exercise, and not only from a mental health perspective but physically as well.
Research has shown that regular aerobic exercise, getting your heart rate up and your sweat glands working, can increase the size of your hippocampus which is the area of the brain involved in learning and verbal memory. For brain cells to function correctly and survive, they need proteins called neurotrophins. It has been seen that exercise increases the production of these proteins and therefore increases plasticity in the brain, the brain’s ability to change and adapt, so, in turn, bettering your memory and learning. When exercising, you increase the blood flow around your body, so your brain gets more oxygen and means it can create more neurons which control memory and thinking. It also helps in the release of hormones which create a better environment for cell growth.
They have also seen in studies that resistance training can slow the loss of the white matter in your brain. The white matter is the connective tissue responsible for passing signals between the regions in the brain. As you get older, you can develop lesions and holes in your white matter which can lead to degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s. Lifting weights as little and twice a week can help slow down the degenerative process, so next time you’re struggling to get to the gym, just think about how you are helping protect yourself from losing yourself!
Exercise can help to reduce anxiety and stress, along with improving sleep and your overall mood; together, this can help reduce cognitive impairment. Many people report an increase in confidence from exercise; feeling like you are accomplishing something and improving on your health and aesthetically feeling more comfortable, can give you the boost you need to feel more like the person you want to be.
For overall brain health, it’s looking like you need to have a varied workout routine to ensure that you cover all your bases. So mix up lifting those weights with some sweat-producing, heart rate raising conditioning, and you will be on your way to taking care of that walnut-shaped friend that has been taking care of you. Some extra attention to your exercise levels now could mean a lot more to you in the future.