Many of us have heard over and over again that we need exercise in order to stay in good physical shape.
We have heard that it helps us to shed the pounds, that it is quite beneficial for our cardiovascular health (1), and that regular exercising helps with treating severe diseases such as diabetes.
However, what is not highlighted quite as frequently as it should be is that exercise is crazy beneficial for your brain health (2) as well!
Exercise is being proven over and over again to have considerable benefits in helping prevent brain damage, (even combating damage brought on by several other ailments), as well as prevents ailments caused by brain damage like Dementia (3).
First, let’s start with what exactly causes brain damage to begin with.
Brain damage and a decrease in cognitive functions can be caused by many different issues ranging from apparent physical damage, like a concussion from head trauma or various mood disorders as depression, for instance.
Naturally, if you hit anything too hard you run the risk of damaging or breaking it, so I believe head injury or concussion is pretty self-explanatory so that we will move on.
Studies of depression (4), however, are giving new information that most people are unaware of.
These studies are beginning to prove that depression not only affects the mental health but also is being shown actually to shrink the hippocampus.
Your hippocampus plays a vital role in memory retainment as well as behavioral and emotional functioning.
With a smaller hippocampus, one becomes less able to remember the necessary things such as passwords and daily tasks, feel and express emotions, and so forth.
Stress and anxiety from depression is also a contributor to damage.
When an individual has depression, his body’s chemical imbalance impairs him from being able to produce as many hormones that deal with stress.
When there is too much stress, the telomeres, the caps at the end of each chromosome where DNA (5) is contained, deteriorates and the DNA frays and can cause cell complications like cancer.
Studies are now showing that inactivity is also a direct link to depression.
In women, in particular, those who sat for more than 7 hours a day were at a 47% higher risk of developing depression than women that sat four or fewer hours a day.
Diabetes (6) also is an evil villain of the brain.
Though it’s often overlooked and escapes the mind, no pun intended, diabetes impairs cells and vessels of the brain as well as the rest of the body.
When one is performing a more active task of the brain, i.e., trying to remember something or a higher intellectual task by type of a math equation, the blood vessels in the brain momentarily swell and allow more blood to the brain, which in turn provides more oxygen to get to the cells for proper performance.
However, a disbalance of glucose and insulin levels restricts the vessels by making them less malleable and unable to deliver the oxygen the cells need.
If the cells can’t get the oxygen when they need it, they will damage themselves when performing those activities.
This damage even occurs in individuals who are taking medication and have their diabetes relatively under control.
The main damaging factor in type 2 diabetes is the overabundance of glucose (sugar) in the blood (7), and the bodies’ inability to deal with it.
It either causes the body does not produce enough insulin to deal with the glucose or the body struggles to use the insulin properly (insulin resistant).
Because the muscles use glucose as energy to make them move, the more they move, the more glucose they help rid the body of, and the lower the glucose level goes.
By giving the cells less glucose to deal with, exercise also helps the cells that are insulin resistant to process glucose more efficiently.
Exercise is showing to be the most effective and underutilized treatment for depression, including antidepressant medications.
FNDC5 is a protein that triggers BDNF (12) which is a rejuvenator that not only protects brain cells that are already there but it actually tells brain cells to turn into neurons which causes neurogenesis – the ability to adapt and grow new brain cells.
This means that exercise helps your brain grow larger which can help put your hippocampus back to its original size.
It is always essential when either starting to learn how to develop a proper exercise routine or getting back into an old one, that one starts off at a slower pace and sets realistic goals.
It is also helpful to have a well balanced weekly routine that consists of the three main types of exercise:
Aerobic exercises include walking, jogging, biking, swimming, tennis basketball, soccer, or any other sport.
You should try to fit in at least thirty minutes of aerobic exercise at least five times a week.
This may sound like a lot to some of you, but if you’re a creative and dedicated individual, then you can easily accomplish this all.
Everything from walking from your car to the storefront door, to taking the stairs, to walking your dog is considered aerobic activity.
You don’t even have to do all thirty-minute exercises at the same time.
You can break it up into five or ten-minute activities.
Strength training is excellent for it targets the use of your muscles more directly, which helps burn some of that excess glucose that was mentioned earlier.
Lifting weights is an excellent way to strength train, but you can also use your own body weight, (by performing such exercises as push-ups, pull-ups, and yoga) if you wanted to save some money and a trip to the gym.
You should focus on strength training for at least twenty to thirty minutes a week.
It is imperative to stretch both before and after exercising to avoid injuring the muscles as well as to relax the muscles and reduce soreness.
Yoga is a great way to incorporate strength training and flexibility training at the same time.
As discussed throughout this article, there are many benefits to brain health through the use of exercise.
I hope you have now been successfully convinced of these benefits and are ready to begin your new journey to a healthier brain (13).
Now, get to it!