We all know that exercise has plentiful benefits for the body, it helps keep it healthy and in shape and can prevent or delay many diseases like osteoporosis, heart condition, high blood pressure, diabetes type 2 and more. It helps us feel better, look better and age better.
However, it is not only our physical fitness that benefits from exercise.
In the last few articles we have been focusing on the association between physical activity and mental health. We looked at some scientific research in how exercise can beat mild depression, help with anxiety and how it helps control stress.
In this article we are going to concentrate on the effects of exercise on cognitive performance, in other words on our ability to memorise, learn and analyse.
What does science say?
There has been plenty of research on the cognitive benefits that come from regular exercise; study after study has now proven that sticking to a regular fitness regime leads to changes in the brain associated with improved performance.
According to Science Daily, every time you exercise it is not only your body that gets fitter. All brain systems are simultaneously improving and enhancing as you work out so while getting a fitter body, you are getting a fitter mind, at the same time.
Especially beneficial appears to be aerobic exercise like running, cycling, swimming or brisk walking, whatever makes your heart go a bit faster and brings out a little sweat of you.
How does it work?
Exercise has a profound impact on our brain. It affects it on many levels, influencing our mood, mental health, memory and thinking skills:
- By increasing the heart rate, it facilitates better flow of oxygen and glucose to the brain, which in turn makes our brain perform better
- It aids the release of feel-good hormones like serotonin and endorphins that are responsible for elevated spirits after a work-out session and plays a role in reducing stress
- It also contributes to the production of more brain cells and new neural connections changing the brain in a way that it protects memory and thinking skills. Go to Harvard Medical School website to read more.
In other words, exercise does not only make us fitter but also smarter.
How exercise can help delay mental decline?
Recently, there has been a lot of research into how exercise can help with ageing and mental decline. As we age, it is natural for some regions of our brain to shrink by about 1-2 % annually which can lead to an increased risk of developing some cognitive difficulties. It has been proven that active lifestyle may prevent and/or delay of cognitive function and even dementia and it is believed that regular physical activity is especially beneficial for people over 50.
Go to NHS website to read more about how exercise sharpens your mind.
How to choose the right physical activity for me?
In general, every kind of activity that is good for your heart will be good for your brain too. Just choose something that you enjoy and stick with it, the best choices would be aerobic exercises that make your heart rate a bit higher and cause you to break into a little sweat.
Many people find exercising in the morning beneficial as it makes their brain sharper and they are mentally more ready for a day ahead, helps them learn more quickly and retain information better, prepares them for mental stresses of the day and helps them react better to complex situations.
The best thing is, that you do not need to be training for a marathon or go to the gym every day to reap the benefits of exercise. Even a short walk is going to help to clear your head and give a little boost to the brain. So next time you put on your running shoes, remember that it is not only your heart that is going to thank you but also your brain!