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This is a great article by Dr. Charvat, and I completely agree with it.
Please read this important article! It will improve the quality of your life!!
Why Exercise Matters to your Brain
Mylea Charvat, Ph.D.
As a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist, I recently attended the world’s largest Alzheimer’s scientific conference, the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2017, earlier this week in London.
As I walked around the poster presentations and listened to the different scientific sessions, I noticed an increasing number of studies that suggest exercise can boost brain function and protect against dementia. The Washington Post published an article recently about another new study that showed how interrupted sleep may lead to Alzheimer’s disease, and sleep will be the second topic in this four part series of articles about what everyone can do to protect against Dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease.
A recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease, which was reported in Time magazine, showed that people who did more moderate-intensity physical activity were more likely to have healthy patterns of glucose metabolism in their brains – a sign of healthy brain activity – compared to people who exercised less.
But this shouldn’t be shocking news.
The Federal Government published its first guidelines, regarding the recommended amount of physical activity for Americans ages 6 and over back in 2008. These guidelines also include individuals at increased risk of chronic disease – and provides science-based advice on how physical activity can help promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease, including dementia.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggests that adults should exercise for at least 2.5 hours per week, compared to children who need at least an hour per day(1). Exercise not only improves your physical health, but also cognition. It has global effects on the brain, enriching function in areas that traditionally have not been thought to be related to exercise(3).
How does exercise improve brain health?
There are many ideas about how exercise helps improve cognitive health. Aerobic exercise (also known as cardio), raises your heart rate and increases blood flow to your brain. This leads to neurogenesis – or the production of neurons -- in certain parts of your brain that control memory and thinking. Your increased heart rate is accompanied you breathing harder and faster depending on the intensity of your workout. As more oxygen enters the bloodstream due to faster breathing -- more oxygen is delivered to your brain.
If we really want to get technical, another factor that mediates the link between cognition and exercise is neurotrophins. You’re probably thinking great – but what the heck is that?
Neurotrophins are proteins that aid neuron survival and function. It has been noted that exercise promotes the production of neurotrophins, leading to greater brain plasticity and therefore -- better memory and learning. As well as neurotrophins, exercise drives an increase of neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically serotonin and norepinephrine, which boost information processing.
Numerous studies support the notion that maintaining an active lifestyle provides a cognitive advantage over being sedentary. Obese adults and obese children are overall outperformed on cognitive tests by their more fit counterparts. If you sustain an active lifestyle, this has benefits that can last for decades.
In a study conducted by Dr. David Jacobs, exercise tests were administered to a group of subjects to determine their fitness levels. Those who were the most active in 1985 tended to still be on the fit side of the spectrum decades later. That same “fit” cohort also performed better on cognitive tests decades later. These data suggest that activity in early and mid life may produce protective cognitive effects across the life span.
Physical activity serves as a protective factor against Alzheimer’s disease, because exercise increases brain volume through neurogenesis, and it is thought that this cognitive reserve helps buffer against the effects of dementia.
Does the type of workout matter?
Yes. Both the type of workout and method of staying fit are important to whether or not there are cognitive benefits. If you’re one of those lucky people that can eat whatever and stay thin, just staying thin and counting calories isn’t enough. You still have to do exercise. In fact, there is a term in medicine for people that are not healthy overall but stay thin: TOFI.
Between three sets of people—individuals losing weight through restrictive eating, people who lost weight through exercise, and another group that used a combination of the two—only the groups who had exercise as part of their weight loss regimen noted an improvement in cognition.
Exercise’s effects on cognition aren’t necessarily dose-dependent, so working out five hours a day won’t generate a massive leap in cognitive ability.
In closing, it’s more important to concentrate on the type of exercise if you’re looking to maximize your cognitive health. A multi-component routine focusing on balance, flexibility, and aerobic fitness is better than focusing on just one type of exercise.
So pick your mode of choice! Go walking, running, swimming, hiking or biking. Enjoy the fresh air. Get in touch with nature. There are so many health benefits – both physical and mental, to exercise.