How Physical Activity Affects Your Brain

How Physical Activity Affects Your Brain

It is widely known that physical activity is good for the body. Often overlooked though, is how exercise is crucial for your mental health as well. Regular exercise has a positive impact on your mental health and brain health. Research proves that regular exercise does make a difference in your overall health no matter your age, fitness level, or lifestyle.

Exercise Improves Brain Health

You can improve your brain health throughout your life with exercise. According to TIME magazine, exercise can lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and possibly slow brain aging by 10 years. Published by TIME magazine, a research review by the British Journal of Sports Medicine looked over 39 studies that found a link between exercise and brain health with individuals over the age of 50. Exercises like Tai Chi were linked to improvements in the brain.

Joe Northey, who is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Canberra Research Institute for Sport and Exercise in Australia, states, “When older adults undertake aerobic or resistance exercise, there is a change to the structure and function of areas of the brain responsible for complex mental tasks and memory function” (TIME). Another study done by New Mexico Highlands University found that while you walk, the pressure of stepping onto the ground sends waves through your arteries, which will increase blood flow to the brain. This is important for healthy brain function because blood flow carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain.

Blood flow also creates new blood cells. There are two types of blood cells in our bodies: red and white blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the organs of the body and white blood cells are our first line of defense when combating bacteria, viruses, and fungi (Wilmington Health).

Increased blood flow caused by exercising improves the structural integrity of the brain. Communication and the ability to use energy are improved due to the increase in blood flow, allowing the brain to effectively communicate between neurons (Pittsburgh Fitness Project).

Exercise Improves Memory

Memory and cognition are also important aspects of brain health. According to Harvard Health Publishing, exercise helps memory and thinking through both indirect and direct means. “The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors.” Also, indirectly, exercise reduces stress and anxiety and improves your overall mood and sleep. Problems in these particular areas contribute to cognitive impairment.

Exercising will help improve your memory, even just by walking 30 minutes a day. Stated by Harvard Health Publishing, “Researchers say one new case of dementia is detected every four seconds globally. They estimate that by the year 2050, more than 115 million people will have dementia worldwide.” Exercising the brain can reduce our chances of getting dementia as we age. This is because, according to a study done at the University of British Columbia, aerobic exercise activates your heart and sweat glands, which boosts the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is part of the brain that controls verbal memory and learning. Resistance training, balance, and muscle toning also have the same effect on our mental health (Harvard Health Publishing).

Exercise Improves Psychological Health

Psychological health is just as important as physical health in every stage of life. It helps determine how we handle stress, make choices, and relate to others. According to Psychology Today, “Inactive lifestyle contributes to chronic miseries such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and an earlier death.”

There has been an increase in anxiety and depression in the United States over the years. Social isolation, poor dieting, overworking, and too much focus on money and image all contribute to poor mental health. Inactivity is a major factor in poor health and mood. Remaining active allows the body to stimulate endorphins and enkephalins (a naturally occurring peptide that has potent painkilling effects which is released by neurons in the central nervous system and by cells in the adrenal medulla) (Psychology Today).

Exercise can also help prevent certain mental illnesses. According to Psychology Today, exercise reduces your chances of depression as you get older. It is important to note that exercise can be as good as existing pharmacological interventions across conditions like depression, dementia, and anxiety. Exercise can even help cognitive issues like schizophrenia. Just three or more sessions weekly for about 45 to 60 minutes can help prevent or treat mental illnesses (Psychology Today).

Exercise Improves Sleep

Exercise can improve your sleep as well, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Mental health problems are likely to involve sleep disorders. Most Americans are sleep deprived and sleep problems are often linked with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD (Hard Health Publishing). Physical activity helps people fall asleep quicker and allows you to spend more time in a deep sleep. (Harvard Health Publishing).

You do not need as much exercise as you may think to keep a healthy mind and body. Even 15 to 20 minutes of exercise daily can have a huge impact on your brain and overall well-being. Push yourself to be active and you’ll thank yourself in the future.


This article appeared in the 2019 Summer Edition of Elite Life Magazine

Sources:

  • “Exercise on the Brain: Correlation Between the Brain and Exercise.” Pittsburgh Fitness Project, 18 Oct. 2018, www.pittsburghfitnessproject.com/correlation-between-the-brain-and-exercise/.
  • Gingell, Sarah. “How Your Mental Health Reaps the Benefits of Exercise.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 22 Mar. 2018, www.psychologytoday. com/us/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/how-your-mental-health-reaps-the-benefits-exercise.
  • Godman, Heidi. “Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, Thinking Skills.” Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publishing, 5 Apr. 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110.
  • Harvard Health Publishing. “Sleep and Mental Health.” Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publishing, 19 June 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health.
  • Markow, Justin. “The Importance of Blood.” Wilmington Health, 2019, www.wilmingtonhealth.com/news/the-importance-of-blood.
  • Sifferlin, Alexandra. “The Simple Reason Exercise Enhances Your Brain.” Time, Time, 26 Apr. 2017, http://time.com/4752846/exercise-brain-health/

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