We’re not just talking about brain exercises you can do to help keep your brain sharp. (You’ve probably heard that things like crossword puzzles and learning new skills are good for your brain. And yes, they are important.) We’re talking about sweat and increased heart rate.
Aerobic exercise has wonderful benefits for both your body and your brain
Like a muscle, your brain grows with exercise and withers without it.
“The real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best,” says Dr. John Ratey, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Ratey demonstrates how and why physical activity is crucial to the way we think and feel. “To keep our brains in peak performance, our bodies need to work hard.”
“Inactivity is killing our brains too–physically shriveling them,” he says.
More research is coming forth that shows the benefits of exercise on the brain. For example, the Harvard Health Blog recently shared:
“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.
“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.”
Several research studies have shown exercise increases serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is thought to regulate anxiety, happiness, and mood. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression. The National Health Service Organization even recommends regular, consistent, exercise following a regiment that you are familiar with, saying it might be a better treatment option for mild depression than an antidepressant. From what research is showing, we wouldn’t be surprised if doctors started prescribing aerobic exercise along with other medical treatments to reduce depression and anxiety.
Kids who exercise regularly have been shown to improve their test scores. Recess and physical education do matter. And conversely, “Reducing the time and availability for children to be physically active during the school day could have negative impacts on the integrity of white matter tracts, which might reduce brain efficiency and could lead to lower test scores.” (Christopher Bergland writing for Psychology Today.)
You can improve your brain, at any age. Neurotherapy can train your brain to function better. Exercise builds your brain like a muscle. Why not combine exercise and neurotherapy for top brain function?
As the days are warming up, get outside and get walking, hiking or running–anything that keeps you from being sedentary. Both your body and your brain will thank you.