Exercise for your BRAIN

  • 1 October, 2019

We all know that exercise is good for your body. Just about anyone could list a host of health benefits including stronger bones, better balance, healthier heart, better circulation, and the list goes on.

Today researchers are looking more closely at how exercise, specifically aerobic (cardio) exercise benefits the brain, and the results are encouraging.

The fact that exercise benefits the brain is not a new discovery. In fact, we have known the positive effect exercise has on endorphins (feel good chemicals the body produces) and its subsequent lessening of depression for decades. Researchers today are discovering the memory boosting benefits of exercise as well.

A recently published study from the University of Iowa suggests that exercise can also improve short term memory AND help stave off age-related cognitive decline. In fact, in some cases a single session of exercise was enough to see improvement.

The team of researchers used MRI scans and stationary bikes to determine what parts of the brain were stimulated post-exercise, and how long those effects lasted.

In the first part of the study Participants ages 60-80 were asked to pedal a bike for 20 minutes with light or moderate intensity. They were then scanned and given memory tests. For those who saw an increase in brain activity via the MRI, there was also a bump in memory for a few hours post-exercise. Unfortunately, not everyone saw the increased brain activity.

The second part involved 50 minutes per day for 12 weeks. This group saw better results, but it appears to be related to doing the daily rather than a prolonged effect. In other words, one is definitely not enough, you must keep doing the activity to reap the results.

Current recommendations are 150 minutes of moderate cardio per week – or 3 – 50 min. bouts of aerobic activity to reduce the risk of dementia/Alzheimers and depression. This appears to fall in line with the study results and trying what the fitness industry has been saying for years in being active daily. According to the research above it is better for your health and your brain.

Think of exercise as a celebration of what your body can do, continue to do, and a way to keep your brain younger too.

Side Note: If cycling is not for you, you can try Zumba Gold, walking inside or outside, swimming, using an elliptical trainer, or any other activity that raises your heart rate and gets your whole body moving. If you’d like to try a senior fitness class, TheGyms at Blairsville, Cleveland and Dawsonville offer several a week, AND they are a great way to socialize and get to know your neighbors, which is another way to reduce cognitive decline. Win-win!

The paper, “Acute exercise effects predict training change in cognition and connectivity,” was published online Aug. 2 in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Contributing authors: Timothy Weng, Krithika Narayana-Kumanan, Rachel Cole, Conner Wharff, Lauren Reist, Lyndsey DuBose, Gardar Sigurdsson, James Mills, Jeffrey Long, Vincent Magnotta, and Gary Pierce.

The National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, funded the research.

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