Exercising for brain function

When you think of the benefits of exercise you may think of fitness and cardiovascular health. Yet the impact exercise has on your brain – arguably the most important organ in your body – is rarely considered.

Exercise benefits your brain’s function, physical and mental health in a range of ways. It slows the breakdown of brain cells and improves connection between the right and left halves of the brain, research has found. It improves your brain’s performance while under pressure as well as the resting coherence of your brain’s networks.  

These are seven ways that exercise benefits your brain.

Clears brain fog
After doing intensive exercise your ability to pay attention and maintain focus increases. It also helps you to interpret information and improves your organisation. Some evidence suggests that over a longer period of time, exercise may help to change the structures of white matter in the brain, helping the connection between brain cells.

Mental health
Aerobic exercise has been shown to ease depression and anxiety and is often prescribed as treatments for mild depression. Regular aerobic exercise including gardening, walking and jogging has been shown to improve self-esteem.

Your hippocampus is the part of your brain linked to memory and learning. Doing aerobic exercise helps to grow and slow the shrinking of your hippocampus, which can help with memory retention as you age.

According to one study by the Journal of Physiology, aerobic physical activity benefits brain function, cognitive performance and brain structure in elderly people.

Increases neuroplasticity
It is believed that weight training and aerobic exercise can increase the neuroplasticity of your brain. This is the ability of your brain to be ‘flexible’, to change and adapt with new information.

In later life, exercising helps brain functions such as multitasking, planning, inhibition, conflict resolution and task performance. When under cognitively challenging conditions, older people who regularly engage in physical activity are better able to effectively engage with task-relevant resources.

Improves sleep
You’ve probably found that it’s easier to get to sleep if you’ve worked out earlier on in the day. It also improves the quality of your sleep and can even promote sleep in people with insomnia.

Exercise is also helpful in regulating a healthy sleep cycle. This may be because your body temperature rises while exercising and cools down afterwards. This post-exercise drop in temperature helps to promote sleep.

Helps to prevent dementia
Exercise helps to prevent conditions such as diabetes, obesity, depression and high blood pressure, all of which are linked to dementia. For this reason, people who do regular exercise are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. 

Blood flow
Aerobic exercises strengthen your heart and blood vessels, both helping blood get to your brain, and preventing the build-up of plaques which are linked to dementia. 

Research done on animal models suggests that aerobic and resistance training may be linked to the growth of new neurons and blood vessels in the brain

Do you feel less foggy headed after exercising? Do you find that exercise helps you to sleep better?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Liv Gardiner


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