We know that exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy weight, preserving muscle strength and keeping your heart strong and healthy. It is also known to reduce the risk of highly prevalent disorders such as depression, anxiety and Alzheimer's disease.
What isn’t immediately apparent is that regular exercise is also vital for a healthy functioning brain. Through increased blood flow to the brain, physical activity triggers biochemical changes that spur neuroplasticity (the production of new connections between neurons in the brain), helping to generate new brain cells and the ability to adapt, learn and grow. Let’s discuss this further.
Aerobic exercise gets your heart pumping, delivering more oxygen and nutrients to hard-working muscles. It directly stimulates physiological changes in the body, such as reductions in insulin resistance and inflammation which accounts for some of the mood-enhancing effects of physical activity.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is the growth factor that promotes new brain cells’ growth and supports existing brain cells’ survival, especially in the hippocampus, which is vital for memory. Exercise increases the expression of BDNF with just 30 minutes of activity increasing blood levels of BDNF by 30%. These rises link to improvements in cognitive function, including memory and processing speed.
The positive effects of exercise on the brain
The parts of the brain that control thinking and memory are more significant in volume in people who exercise than in people who don’t. If this alone doesn’t convince you that exercise is essential, then perhaps some of these effects will seal the deal:
According to the NHS, at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking or cycling every week and strength exercises on two or more days a week, work all of the major muscle groups. If you prefer vigorous activities such as running or a tennis game every week, the time reduces down to 75 minutes plus strength exercises two or more days a week. Or a mixture of the two.
Where to begin
Whether you are just starting with your exercise regime or are a seasoned pro, these simple steps will ensure you meet the recommended weekly activity limits. Focusing on the basic lifestyle habits that are known for boosting your brainpower will make a huge difference.
Exercise boosts your memory and thinking skills both directly and indirectly. One thing that stands clear is that there is no shortcut: to keep your brain nourished, you must keep moving.