Keep moving

January 10, 2024 • Brain health

Three Sportive Women SmMost people know that being active is good for both your heart and muscles. But did you know physical activity is also beneficial for your brain too? Regular exercise helps the brain in three big ways: making stronger connections in the brain, protects the brain by building a reserve, and help your mood.

When you exercise, your body sends more blood everywhere, including your brain. This extra blood brings oxygen and other valuable nutrients that your brain, muscles, and heart require to work well. This can result in better thinking, muscle growth, and more efficient heart function.

As exercise can cause muscle to grow, it can also help your brain become stronger by growing new connections, called dendrites, which are helpful in strengthening learning and remembering things. There is also a part of the brain called the hippocampus that is important for understanding space and making mental maps of places. Exercise can also result in neuroplasticity, the process that allows new parts of your brain to grow. This makes the connections in your brain stronger and harder to forget, which is amazing for your memory and can even slow down memory loss as you get older. This slower reduction of age-related memory loss is also known as cognitive reserve. So in this case, the saying is correct: if you use your brain, you are less likely to lose it!

Exercise can also affect mood by making you feel happier. It releases chemicals called endorphins that reduce pain and boost happiness. Being active has also been shown to help lower the risk of feeling depressed or anxious. Long distance runners often talk about a “runner’s high” and this is that exact mechanism. But you do not have to run a marathon to see the improved mood. In fact, there are many ways to be active. Aerobic exercises like walking, dancing, and swimming are good for your heart and lungs. Strength training, like lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises, helps your muscles. And activities like Tai chi, yoga, and Pilates are great for flexibility, balance, and coordination.

Another benefit of exercise, including exercises that strengthen balance, is reducing fall risk. Accidents and Injuries from falls can lead to all sort of problems. Staying active is a way to prevent falls, and those who are active tend to recover from a fall more quickly.

Consider trying a few of these exercises or find new activities as current recommendations for activity include at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise a week, two days a week for strength training, and balance training. Remember to consult your health care provider prior to beginning an exercise regimen.

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