Brain Health and the Benefits of Exercise

Regular exercise is recommended to anyone looking for a better sense of well being. Apart from losing weight, it brings a whole host of benefits such as better sleep, more energy, stronger bones and muscles, as well as reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure just to name a few. 

But what we hardly consider are the positive effects that exercise and physical activity can have on the most important organ in our body: the brain.

Physical activity can vastly improve our cognitive health. It helps us to better think, concentrate, learn, remember, problem-solve, and can even counteract the onset of anxiety and depression. 

Neurodegenerative diseases, in particular, are linked to poor brain health. According to researchers, one new case of dementia is discovered every four seconds around the world. They estimate that by 2050, more than 115 million individuals worldwide would have dementia.


What is brain health?

Brain health is a new and developing notion that incorporates neuronal development, plasticity, functioning, and healing during the course of a person’s life.

Good brain health is a state in which each person can recognize their own strengths and enhance their cognitive, emotional, psychological, and behavioral functioning in order to deal with life’s challenges. From conception through death, a variety of linked social and biological elements (including genetics) influence brain growth and health. These variables have an impact on how our brains develop, adapt, and respond to stress and adversity, resulting in measures for both promotion and prevention throughout life.

Disruptions in normal brain growth and/or functioning describe brain health disorders that develop over the course of a person’s life. Intellectual developmental disorders, autism spectrum disorders, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, dementia, cerebrovascular disease, headache, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, neuroinfections, brain tumors, traumatic injury, and neurological disorders caused by malnutrition are some of the conditions that they can manifest as.

Multisectoral and interdisciplinary collaborations with a holistic person-centered approach focused on promotion, prevention, treatment, care, and rehabilitation across the lifespan, as well as active engagement of people with these conditions and their families and carers, as appropriate, are required for health and social care for these conditions.


How does regular exercise positively affect brain health?

In a recent study, 454 older persons volunteered to have their brains donated for research after 20 years of yearly physical checks and cognitive testing. Accelerometers were given to the participants, which measured their movement and physical activity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The researchers found that those who moved more performed better on memory and reasoning tests, and that every one standard deviation increase in physical activity was linked to a 31% decreased chance of dementia. According to the study, the link between physical exercise and cognitive function remained even after the researchers took into account the patients’ brain pathology and whether or not they had dementia.

In a separate trial, 160 sedentary older persons with mild cognitive impairment were randomly allocated to one of three groups. They may conduct aerobic exercise (45 minutes three times a week), eat a heart-healthy DASH diet, mix aerobic exercise with the DASH diet, or get health education.

According to the study, those who followed the DASH diet alone did not improve on evaluations of executive function (which is responsible for activities like planning, problem-solving, and multitasking), while those in the health-education group did worsen. The researchers found that those who exercised improved their thinking and memory, and those who combined exercise and the DASH diet benefited even more.


4 Biggest Benefits of Exercising

  1. Exercise decreases feelings of anxiety – A number of helpful neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and acetylcholine, are released into your brain every time you move your body, according to studies. Anxiety and depression can be reduced by using these drugs. It simply takes 10 to 30 minutes of physical activity per day to instantly improve your attitude.
  2. Exercise improves your focus and concentration – A single workout can assist you enhance your attention shifting and focusing skills. After 30 minutes of exercise, this is an immediate benefit that can endure for at least two hours. I propose brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, tennis, or jumping rope as sports that raise your heart rate. One workout session has also been demonstrated to increase reaction time and hand-eye coordination in studies.
  3. Exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells – Scientists have discovered that one of the most important benefits of exercise is that it increases neurogenesis, or the birth of new brain cells. Improving cognitive function necessitates this. Running has been proven to increase the development of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a small seahorse-shaped portion of the brain dedicated to memory formation and storage, in rats and mice. Exercise can also help to improve the health and function of the synapses that connect neurons in this area, allowing brain cells to interact more effectively.
  4. Exercise protects your brain from aging and neurodegenerative diseases – Consider your brain as a muscle: the more you exercise it, the stronger and larger it becomes. Longitudinal human research imply that regular exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which are both vulnerable to neurodegenerative disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s. While exercising will not totally prevent or cure natural cognitive loss as people age, doing so on a regular basis can assist to decrease or delay its beginning.


5 Negative Things that Can be Reversed with Exercise

Regular exercise has been shown to help those with depression, anxiety, and ADHD. It also helps you relax, improves your memory, sleep better, and improves your general mood. You don’t have to be a fitness aficionado to receive the rewards. According to research, even small quantities of exercise can make a significant difference. You may learn to use exercise as a strong tool to deal with mental health issues, increase your energy and attitude, and get more out of life, regardless of your age or fitness level.

  1. DepressionExercise has been shown in studies to be as helpful as antidepressant medicine in treating mild to moderate depression—without the adverse effects, of course. For instance, a recent study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health discovered that running for 15 minutes or walking for an hour each day reduced the risk of serious depression by 26%. In addition to alleviating depression symptoms, studies show that sticking to an exercise routine can help you avoid relapsing. For a variety of reasons, exercise is an effective antidepressant. Most significantly, it encourages a variety of brain changes, including as neuronal development, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that boost sensations of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, which are potent chemicals in your brain that boost your mood and make you feel happy. Finally, exercise can work as a diversion, allowing you to find some quiet time to interrupt the loop of negative thoughts that contribute to sadness.
  2. Anxiety – Exercise is an anti-anxiety treatment that is both natural and effective. Through the release of endorphins, it relieves tension and stress, increases physical and mental vitality, and improves overall well-being. Anything that gets you moving can help, but paying attention rather than zoning out will provide a greater benefit. Try to pay attention to the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, the rhythm of your breathing, or the feel of the wind on your skin, for example. You’ll not only improve your physical condition faster by adding this mindfulness element—really focusing on your body and how it feels when you exercise—but you’ll also be able to break the flow of incessant anxieties going through your head.
  3. Stress – When you’re anxious, your muscles, particularly those in your face, neck, and shoulders, may become stiff, resulting in back or neck pain, as well as unpleasant headaches. You may experience chest tightness, a hammering pulse, or muscle cramps. Insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhea, or excessive urination are all possible side effects. All of these physical symptoms can cause anxiety and discomfort, which can lead to even more stress, creating a vicious loop between your mind and body. Exercising is a good method to get out of this rut. Physical activity helps to relax the muscles and release stress in the body, in addition to producing endorphins in the brain. Because the mind and body are so intertwined, your mind will feel better when your body does.
  4. ADHD – Regular exercise is one of the most simple and effective strategies to alleviate ADHD symptoms and improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity raises dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels in the brain, all of which affect focus and attention. Exercise acts in a similar way to ADHD drugs like Ritalin and Adderall in this regard.
  5. PTSD and Trauma – Evidence suggests that focusing on your body and how it feels when exercising can assist your nervous system in becoming “unstuck” and moving out of the immobility stress reaction that characterizes PTSD or trauma. Instead of allowing your mind to wander, focus on the physical sensations in your joints and muscles, as well as your insides, while you move your body. Cross-movement exercises that work both arms and legs, such as walking (particularly in sand), jogging, swimming, weight training, or dancing, are among the best options. Hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and downhill and cross-country skiing (both downhill and cross-country) have all been demonstrated to help with PTSD symptoms.


Exercise for Brain Health in Chicago

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