Want to improve your brain health? Move your body.
Have you ever noticed that you are more focused, creative, feel less stressed or simply feel better after a workout? When asked to list the health benefits of fitness, we often think about the impact on our heart health, weight, or prevention of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, but we aren’t always as quick to link the connection between exercise and brain health.
There’s overwhelming evidence that exercise improves your learning, concentration, memory and keeps your brain sharp as you age. In other words: exercise keeps your brain young.
In his book “Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” author John Ratey, MD writes “The major implication is that exercise not only keeps the brain from rotting, but it also reverses the cell deterioration associated with aging”. Ratey continues: ““Exercise is the single most powerful tool to optimize your brain function.
How does exercise affect the brain?
Just as exercise increases the blood flow to the body, it also increases blood flow to the brain. More blood flow means more nutrients and oxygen to the brain, which improves function. Older adults who start exercising also show physical changes to the brain in the areas that are responsible for memory and higher level thinking. Exercise also lowers stress and makes you feel good by triggering mood-enhancing hormones such as endorphins and dopamine to be released. It also helps with depression and anxiety.
Exercise also plays an important role in the management of brain disorders such as Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis. Exercise has been shown to both manage symptoms and slow disease progression in people with Parkinson’s Disease.
What type of exercise is best for brain health?
While any exercise will improve your overall brain health, certain types of exercise are especially powerful when improving brain health and overall health.
1. Dynamic movements: Versus walking at the same pace in a straight line or on the treadmill, exercise that requires more mental effort will have a greater impact on your brain health. For example, walking forwards and backwards, hiking over uneven terrain, using the agility ladder, or incorporating balance exercises into your program. Boxing, yoga, and dancing are other examples of dynamic exercises.
2. Complex Movements: This is one reason I recommend free weights or cables over machine weights. Exercises such as squats and lunges require the coordination of all your muscles (and therefore your brain) to perform the exercise, while machine weights only work the targeted muscle. Free weights improve coordination, balance and posture.
3. Vigorous Exercise: When you get your heart rate up, you’ll help your brain! With moderate to vigorous exercise, your heart and lungs need to work harder to pump blood throughout your body, and that means more blood and nutrients to the brain. If you’re new to exercise, be sure to talk to your doctor first. Regular cardiovascular exercise such as cycling, brisk walking, swimming and hiking are great ways to get your heart rate up!
There’s no doubt that exercise is fantastic for your health and wellbeing: your body, brain and your mental health. A younger, sharper brain is just one more reason to get out for a bike ride or go to the gym to strengthen your muscles!
If you’re interested in incorporating more exercise to improve your brain health, Ascend will be running “Brain + Body Power” an 8 week researched-based fitness program to improve brain health, mobility, strength and endurance. It is ideal for people who are fighting Parkinson’s, other neurological conditions, and older adults who wish to improve their overall health. For more information and to register click HERE.