October 23, 2020
How Exercise Can Train Your Brain
By: Susan Howard
Are you feeling a little foggy and needing to sharpen your mind? More and more studies are showing that physical activity keeps the mind alert and the brain healthy. Positive associations are reported in research from young children to older adults. These important conclusions give new motivation to start moving.
Small Changes Have a Big Impact
Observational studies report that physically fit individuals perform better on cognitive function tests and have faster psychomotor speed than sedentary counterparts. Effects can be seen with small amounts of physical activity such as walking 90 minutes per week. In addition, studies show if you continue with the activity it keeps the mind sharp and prevents cognitive decline as you grow older.
Never Say Never. It's Not Too Late
Is your memory fading? You can potentially reduce further decline and improve your cognitive abilities. A study from the Mayo Clinic, published in Archives of Neurology, determined that moderate exercise such as aerobic group training, aerobic resistance training, hiking, walking and swimming in clients 50-65 years old and older reduced the odds of developing mild cognitive impairment by 35 percent.
Start Young to Improve Academic Performance
Charles Hillman, PhD, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has worked with pre-adolescents, 9-10 years old to young adults. Hillman’s studies show that regular aerobic exercise can enhance academic performance. Children who are more fit score higher on standardized achievement tests and have better attention skills, processing speed, self-monitoring abilities and working memory. Some scientists are researching how early exercise in childhood can increase the brain’s resilience by stimulating cell growth and creating a cognitive reserve to protect from decline later in life. Research suggests that fitness in pre-adolescent children may actually influence physical changes in brain development and neural organization.
Train the Brain to Change
Technology advancements such as neuro-imaging techniques are allowing scientists to see how physical activity affects the brain on a molecular and cellular level. Cellular changes, such as better vasculature, provide more oxygen-rich blood to the brain and enhance the neurotransmission by improving synaptic plasticity. The synaptic plasticity is the ability of two neurons to talk to each other. Hillman says, “Physical fitness shifts where the blood flows in the brain, specifically preserving brain cells in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.” These areas are associated with higher order of cognitive performance.
Reduce Stress and Increase Mental Health
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep and improve self esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
So it’s time to start moving and enjoying all the brain benefits of training. With all of these new reasons, you will be more mindful of why you are so smart to start. Remember to try new things and train for life.
Note: Remember to always consult your physician before starting any program.