Doctors and health professionals have been telling us for years that exercise is good for mind and body and it seems it’s never too late to reap the benefits of exercise. According to one study taking up moderate exercise several times a week is the best way to keep your mind sharp and active if you’re over the age of 50 and in a review of 39 different studies, it was found that thinking and memory skills were the abilities that most improved when people exercised on a regular basis, also finding that physical exercise improved brain function in people over 50, even if they were already showing signs of cognitive decline. According to recent human studies, even people who hold off on regular aerobic activity until later in life may still be able to gain from exercise in their senior years.
Whilst undergoing their tests, researchers found that aerobic exercise and strength training particularly helped to aid cognitive functions and had a great effect on the brain’s ability to plan and organise.
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.
It seems that if you are doing moderate exercise only once or twice a week there are still improvements in cognitive function, but the improvements are better the more exercise is done, exercise of moderate intensity, and on as many days of the week as possible, meaning you should probably be exercising on more days than not to see the benefits the study suggests. The study advises that each session should last between 45 – 60 minutes in order to see benefits to cognition.
Exercise affects the brain in many ways, it increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain and also aids the bodily release of an excessive amount of hormones, all of which participate in aiding and providing a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells.
Exercise stimulates the brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Recent research showed that exercise increased growth factors in the brain and making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.
Exercise can also show a drop in stress hormones and a study showed that the antidepressant effect of running was also associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
The physical benefits are obvious, we know that exercise lowers blood pressure, decreases cholesterol, reduces fat, adds muscle and improves cardiovascular function. But now we know that exercise also reduces stress, anxiety and depression and allows us to maintain focus at work and to think clearly. So whatever exercise and motivators you choose, commit to establishing exercise as a habit, almost like taking a prescription medication. Your personal trainer can give you an exercise “prescription” to suit your needs and make the most of your brain power.