Physical fitness has recently been associated with brain health. Many researchers have found that exercise is a form of prevention for many ailments. Convincing evidence shows that exercise can help the brain resist shrinkage and improve creativity and cognitive abilities. It has also been found that exercise promotes the process call neurogenesis—the ability of your brain to adapt and grow new brain cells, no matter your age.
Exercise also promotes our mental health by boosting hormones and neurotransmitters linked to your mood control, including endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, glutamate, and GABA. It also normalizes insulin resistance. Canadian researchers have also found most recently that high-intensity workouts can help boost memory through improving hippocampal function.
This finding could prove an important strategy against Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers also recently concluded that aerobic exercise could increase the left hippocampal volume, that which benefits specific memory functions.
The idea that the brain is able to rejuvenate and regenerate throughout a lifetime is contrary to what we have been taught throughout the years. We usually are told that once neurons die, there is no regeneration. Because of this flawed understanding, it has been thought that memory decline is a normal part of aging.
The real key lies in being proactive by eating a healthy diet—including plenty of healthy fats (such as animal-based omega-3’s)—and staying physically active.Studies have shown that exercise can boost brain matter in the hippocampal as well as preserve it in the frontal, parietal, and temporal cortexes—preventing cognitive deterioration.
Your right and left hippocampi are both parts of the limbic system, which plays important roles in the organization from short-term to long-term memory storage. It is also where the memorization of names, verbal/memory function, spatial relationship memories, and nonverbal memory functions occur.
The recent data shows that exercise routines including variations of cardio exercises helped prevent the decrease of the hippocampi over time and that aerobic exercise can be useful to prevent age-related hippocampal deterioration in order to maintain neuron health.
Exercise has also been shown to increase a metabolic signal that aids mitochondrial biogenesis. A high-sugar diet is considered toxic to mitochondria—which not only help us produce energy, but also power our cells and determine which cells remain living or die.
This idea is causing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases to be considered mitochondrial diseases, meaning they can be acquired by exposure to toxins, or even through toxic effects of mitochondria based upon your diet.
It seems as though those who benefit from aerobic exercise gain a wider variety of good bacteria in the gut. This correlates to overall better health, a more balanced immune system, and reduced inflammation.
In 2015, data was published to show that a fitness program could reduce the risk of dementia, even with those who are high at risk. Through a period of addressing diet, training exercises, and metabolic risks, the group of candidates scored significantly better on a test showing mental functioning than did the control group.
This study is the first that shows an intensive program of lifestyle changes may prevent cognitive decline in those who are at a greater risk of dementia. This is concurrent with previous research that shows there are links between cognitive decline, diet, heart health, and fitness in the elderly. One way to help could also be introducing ketone supplements into your daily supplement protocol.
Connections between physical fitness and brain health are profound. Here are a few more ways in which this is a factor, besides those already mentioned above.
Improved blood flow to the brain – The brain needs a certain amount of oxygen to aids its proper function. This explains the brain/heart connection—what is good for one is also good for the other. The increased blood flow from exercise allows for your brain to function better, almost immediately. The result is more focus after a workout—improving productivity at both work and home.
Reduction of plaque formation – By changing the way damaging proteins reside in the brain exercise can help slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Decreasing BMP – BMP can slow down the creation of new neurons, thus reducing neurogenesis. With high levels of BMP, the brain grows slower. Exercise reduces this impact and allows your adult stem cells to continue to perform their vital functions that keep your brain agile.
Boosts noggin – Exercise also increases another brain protein called noggin—acting as a BMP antagonist. This complex interplay between noggin and BMP appear to be powerful factors that help ensure the youthfulness and proliferation of your neurons.
Lowers inflammation—Exercise lowers levels of cytokines associated with obesity and chronic inflammation. Both of these can adversely affect brain function.
It is really never too late to reap the benefits of exercise. Exercise, especially an ideal program of high-intensity cardio and strength training, show themselves to have a high impact on your health. The major benefit is preventative – both dementia and cancer are two of a very long list of problems that can arise in your health from chronic inactivity.
The earlier you begin, the more long-term are your rewards. Think of it as an investment in your future—the future of both your physical and mental well-being. The brain has the ability to grow and regenerate throughout your entire life—exercise is perhaps the best way to ensure this continues productivity and health!
Amanda Maurois- Proud mompreneur, graphic designer, enthusiastic traveller and blogger who loves to write about healthy lifestyle, entrepreneurship, time management and more. She is also a lead writer and editor at HowTonight lifestyle magazine. Follow Amanda Twitter @mauroisamanda