There are a plethora of reasons to exercise or be physically active. While the obvious ones are to maintain cardiovascular health, to boost endorphins, reduce stress, and feel & look better, a lesser-known benefit is how exercise benefits the brain. Not only does exercising help to boost your mood and memory, it also works to protect your brain against neurodegenerative diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s.
These findings come at a crucial time, considering that an estimated 115 million people worldwide will have dementia in the year 2050. Professor Wendy Suzuki, who recently gave a Tedtalk on the benefits of exercise on the brain, says that people “take the easy route” instead of making small changes to benefit them. People are glued to their screens and more and more people are leading sedentary lives. Yes, technology is advancing, but the simplest things are often the most beneficial.
Exercise And The Brain
Regular aerobic exercise not only gets your heart pumping, but it also boosts the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved with learning and verbal memory. A study conducted at the University of British Columbia found that resistance training and weightlifting did not reveal the same benefits on the brain. Aerobic exercise affects the brain both directly and indirectly. Exercise helps to reduce inflammation, reduce insulin resistance, and stimulate the release of growth factors, which are chemicals in the brain that aid the survival of new brain cells, in addition to supporting the growth of new blood vessels in the brain.
Several studies suggest that people who frequently exercise have greater volume in the prefrontal cortex and temporal cortex, the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory. Additionally, exercise benefits the brain indirectly by promoting healthier sleep and reducing anxiety and stress. Sleeping problems, stress, and anxiety have been associated with cognitive impairment.
Where Should You Start?
Some people want to exercise, but get held up because they don’t know where to start or what exercises will be most beneficial. They also run into the problem of not knowing how often to exercise or for how long to exercise. It is recommended to get about 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day. If this seems daunting, try to pick certain days of the week to exercise and it will become habitual before you know it. You can always start out with a few minutes of exercise each day and slowly increase your workout time by five or ten minutes each week.
Tips For Holding Yourself Accountable
- Make a commitment with a friend to hold each other accountable. Not only does having a workout buddy motivate you, it also inspires a little friendly competitiveness.
- Join some sort of fitness class. There are so many fitness classes nowadays, making it easy to select the workout you love best. Try kickboxing, Zumba, boot camp, spin class, hot yoga, or another workout that entices you.
- Be experimental and do exercises that allow you to have fun. You can try swimming, hiking, biking, dancing, stand up paddling, or whatever seems interesting to you.