Anybody who has kept up with an exercise routine for even just a few weeks has felt the restorative effects of a good workout. How many times has a run helped you clear your head or how often have you felt relieved of stress after hitting the gym?
Research is emerging that helps to fully explain this connection, and is suggesting that these benefits may be longer lasting than previously thought. It’s possible that having an active lifestyle can not only strengthen your mind today, but also help protect your brain further down the line.
As we age, a number of detrimental changes occur in our brains. First, the levels of various vital chemicals and specialized cells decrease. This undermines the brain’s ability to repair itself and retain new information. Eventually the brain actually begins to shrink, which results in memory loss and dementia.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology explored the neurological effects of treadmill running on middle-aged mice. Like humans, the brains of mice begin to shrink in their middle years. The researchers found that the cardiovascular exercise not only increased the number of neural stem cells but that it also sped up their maturation into neural cells and increased the lifespan of those adult cells.
These findings were built on by a later study in the journal Neurology, which examined the connection between walking and the volume of grey matter in the human brain. The study showed that adults, with a mean age of 78, who walked between six and nine miles per week had more grey matter later in life than those who hadn’t been physically active. This finding suggests that that those older adults who were more physically active greatly reduced their risk of cognitive impairment.
Similar studies continue to be released, strengthening the case for exercise as a powerful preventative agent against age-related mental impairment.
Put It Into Practice
So with this in mind, what can you do to keep your brain functioning at full-speed?
The studies discussed above all used mild cardiovascular exercises, like walking, to produce the promising results and there is no evidence to suggest that more intense activity is more beneficial. In fact, physically exhausting yourself could also deplete your body’s fuel sources, including those used by the brain, and increase your risk of injury.
Select activities you enjoy, can do regularly and can sustain for more than 30 minutes at a time. This can include walking, participating in fun runs, or even working in your garden.
Investing in quality cardiovascular equipment will allow you to do this sort of brain-building exercise at home. Take time to research the best home elliptical machines since these will give you a highly effective workout with minimal risk of injury.
Activities that require complex motor movements such as golf, bowling and dancing are particularly useful. Not only do they get you up and moving but they build your fine motor skills and stimulate larger portions of the brain.
Have you experienced the mental benefits of physical exercise? Please share with us in the comments.