Heidi Godman

Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills

There are plenty of good reasons to be physically active. Big ones include reducing the odds of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Maybe you want to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, prevent depression, or just look better. Here’s another one, which especially applies to those of us (including me) experiencing the brain fog that comes with age: exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.

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. The results were published this week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The finding comes at a critical time. 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.

Exercise and the brain

As I write in the May 2014 Harvard Health Letter, exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. 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.

Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.

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.

Put it to the test

So what should you do? Start exercising! We don’t know exactly which exercise is best. Almost all of the research has looked at walking, including the latest study. “It’s likely that other forms of aerobic exercise that get your heart pumping might yield similar benefits,” says Dr. McGinnis.

How much exercise is required? The study participants walked briskly for one hour, twice a week. That’s 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. Standard recommendations advise half an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week, or 150 minutes a week. If that seems daunting, start with a few minutes a day, and increase the amount you exercise by five or 10 minutes every week until you reach your goal.

If you don’t want to walk, consider other moderate-intensity exercises, such as swimming, stair climbing, tennis, squash, or dancing. Don’t forget that household activities can count as well, such as intense floor mopping, raking leaves, or anything that gets your heart pumping so much that you break out in a light sweat.

Don’t have the discipline to do it on your own? Try any or all of these ideas:

  • Join a class or work out with a friend who’ll hold you accountable.
  • Track your progress, which encourages you to reach a goal.
  • If you’re able, hire a personal trainer. (Paying an expert is good motivation.)

Whatever exercise and motivators you choose, commit to establishing exercise as a habit, almost like taking a prescription medication. After all, they say that exercise is medicine, and that can go on the top of anyone’s list of reasons to work out.

Comments:

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  3. mukund lal

    hi it’s a fentastics prose might become benificiary for me can change my life style.
    so thanks

  4. Discount Vacation Rentals Online

    Yeah, exercise is really a good company anywhere. It’s one of the best prevention methods. Even vacation is not an excuse; there’s still a lot of ways to do it!

  5. Samara

    I can attest to this having been told I was experiencing menopausal symptoms. I was always in pain and tired, moreover, I couldn’t remember a thing. I started exercising a few months ago and I have already noticed the difference. I feel 100% better.

  6. Helen

    Some older adults do not have a safe place to walk.
    Senior centers are providing more options for exercise, including exercise in or near a chair. Most centers provide transportation from your home to the center.
    Never get up!

  7. I completely agree with this article. I know for sure that exercise helps in many ways, both mental and physical. When I stop running from my regular routine, I notice my mood isn’t as positive and physically I feel I have less energy to take me through the day.

  8. Glotzer Sweat LLP

    We know that exercise has great benefits for our heart but, we rarely think about the benefits for the human brain. Exercise is becoming a therapy for those afflicted by this condition.  For the rest of us, it is great to know that we can also benefit by “growing the gray matter” with regular, daily exercise.  Thanks for the great information!

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  10. Elina Ponting

    Interesting post. Exercise is very important for a person. so, a person should regular do exercise for their health. By this, they will be healthy and fit.

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      Back pain can occur because of an imbalance between the strength of the abdomen and back muscles. A large number of muscle groups are engaged in providing the spine the strength to support the body. In case of the abs muscles being weak, it exerts strain on the back resulting in back pain. Toning abs provides your back with flexibility it needs to support to the spine. Strong abdominal and back muscles can overcome any type of back pain, especially the ones which are caused by soft tissue injury or back muscle strain.When exercising, we tend to ignore the core area. The back and abs are made up of several groups of muscles. For a fitter abs and back, its important to work on each group of muscle. The benefits of toning your abs results in stronger back muscles, increased flexibility of the spine and better support for the body. You can also bring down the severity and frequency of that back pain you have been complaining of.

  11. Thank you very nice:)

  12. Francisco

    If they were not enough all the benefits of exercise to our health now have new reasons to do so and certainly not insignificant.
    A more than acceptable to encourage this healthy habit that will bring us endless reasons benefits.
    Regards from Tot Dental

  13. sara@ weight loss tips for women

    regular exercise contain lot of health benefits.Thanks for sharing!

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  16. Lyn

    Thank you very much for these informative articles.

  17. KENNA

    Interesantes comentarios: orientan y educan sobre los diferentes aspectos de la salud Gracias !

  18. chris good

    very use ful tips they inspired me i am handicap and recently join a zumba class to keep active i also lift weights and do a lot of reading i am also limited tocertain things but do try my best your article motivate me thank you

  19. Kariuki Kagwima

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