Working out keeps your brain young, suggests a new study from Columbia University and the University of Miami.
The benefits of physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, have positive effects on brain function on multiple fronts, ranging from the molecular to behavioral level. According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.
Aerobic exercise is great for body and brain: not only does it improve brain function, but it also acts as a “first aid kit” on damaged brain cells.
Exercising in the morning before going to work not only spikes brain activity and prepares you for mental stresses for the rest of the day, but also produces increases retention of new information, and better reaction to complex situations.
Exercising throughout your lifetime may be as good for your brain as turning back the clock 10 years, according to the researchers’ mathematical models.
One possible explanation: Physical activity boosts blood flow to your brain, delivering oxygen and nutrients and removing toxins at a greater rate, says Dr. Wright.
Exercise also fights diabetes, hypertension, and inflammation—conditions that could slowly damage your brain, he says.
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Exercise is good for the heart and makes you look good. However, there are much more compelling reasons to exercise regularly.
In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results.
Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety.
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Research is showing that there is a very powerful connection between the nervous system and movement.
Exercise has been shown to facilitate the growth of new neurons, paving the way for greater intelligence.
The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain 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.
Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t. “Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.
Consider other moderate-intensity exercises, such as swimming, stair climbing, tennis, squash, or dancing.