It’s no big surprise that exercise is great for your physical health, but there is new research on some unexpected brain benefits as well.
Even if we know exercise is good for us, it can be understandably challenging to find time to fit in that workout.
If you are looking for the most “bang for your buck” when it comes to a brain-boosting workout, let’s break down what you need to know regarding when and which types of exercise give you the most brain benefits.
Exercise for Brain Health: What the Research Says
Here’s the good news. Even small amounts of light aerobic exercise improve blood flow to the brain. This blood flow is not only nourishing but protective as well.
Here are other crucial ways exercise is like medicine to your brain:
- Reduces inflammation
- Reduces overall stress
- Balances stress hormones
- Increases thickness of the cerebral cortex
- Stimulates hormones like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin
- Increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which protects and repairs cells and helps with neuroplasticity
What About Memory?
It turns out that 30 minutes a day of walking can work wonders for our memory. Why is walking such a memory booster? Think about your ancestors. They were often walking and looking for food. This walking activated their memory, to help them remember the best hunting and fishing spots.
A study in the journal Nature uncovered that Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDHF) was increased in older adults after physical exercise. What’s BDNF? BDNF is a powerful protein that is associated with improved learning and memory. You want this stuff flowing in your brain.
But wait, there’s more! Another study found that even light activity and a moderate amount of walking (7,500 steps a day) were positively associated with a higher brain volume and less brain aging.
Could Exercise Reduce Loneliness?
Here’s a bit of an unexpected relationship. A recent study out of Cedars-Sinai Medical center suggests that exercising reduces social isolation. Studies have uncovered that loneliness can harm the brain and immune health. But the data suggests those who took part in online exercise courses experienced decreased loneliness and social isolation. Those enrolled in the study ranged in age from 52 to 104. Very inspiring!
Does It Matter When You Exercise?
A review of 10 years of studies published in Translational Sports Medicine found exercise timing can be an important factor in memory and attention.
A quick workout before a memory task improved learning more than if the workout took place afterward.
A short workout was also shown to improve focus and short-term memory. Studies suggest exercise can increase activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which helps with focus, attention, and memory.
This insight is something to consider as many of us (kids and adults) are spending more time on screens.
Your brain can benefit from simple exercises to improve your focus.
Next time you want to master that Sudoku or crossword puzzle, get some deep focus at work, or ace that quiz, consider a brisk walk right before.
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