Your Brain & Exercise
One of the best ways to positively affect your brain is to exercise. If you already sweat regularly, you know that exercise improves blood flow throughout the body. So it’s no surprise that exercise similarly improves blood flow to your brain. More blood flow means more oxygen, which can stimulate changes in the brain that enhance your mood and ability to learn, and the impacts are long-term. According to Dr. Salinas at Harvard, “Aerobic exercise helps improve the health of brain tissue by increasing blood flow to the brain and reducing the chances of injury to the brain from cholesterol buildup in blood vessels and from high blood pressure.” The NIH recommends at least 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week, like brisk walking, in order to maintain overall health as you age, and studies are being done to assess the impact of specific types and amounts of exercise to recommend to those with mild cognitive impairment to improve their brain health as they age.
Exercise also yields several indirect benefits to your brain health as well that are less obvious than the increased blood flow of your post-exercise high. To explain more about how exercise impacts brain function, Heidi Godman, Executive Editor of the Harvard Health Letter, writes:
Exercise helps your brain functions, like memory, in both direct and indirect ways. 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.
Exercise has cumulative effects and is good for the long-term health of your brain!
Exercise is also known to reduce stress and anxiety, which can contribute to cloudy thinking. The impact of exercise on moods can’t be understated either. Even just five minutes of moderate exercise can have a mood-enhancing effect. A 2007 study concluded that exercise has an impact on depression and when prescribed at high levels in one study with older adults, it was concluded to be just as effective as antidepressants.