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The Brain is Like a Muscle - Why Exercise is Crucial for Brain Health

A lot of people are unaware of the powerful effect exercise can have on our brain health. It can increase blood flow to the brain, increase activity of our brain cells, improve the connection between brain areas which can protect it from disease.


How exercise can boost your brain power

Improves cognitive function

    • These are mental processes the brain undergoes in order to think, learn, understand and interact with the world around us.  
    • Includes our ability to focus, remember, plan and problem solve
  • Research:
      • There is evidence that only 10-20 minutes of moderate intensity exercise has an immediate positive effect on our ability to focus
      • Those who participate in regular exercise have greater stimulation in the frontal lobe of the brain and therefore are superior at thinking activities controlled by this area. 
      • Research shows that exercise can have a strong beneficial impact on our ability to control our behaviour, for example, eating a particular food, spending hours on social media or alcohol and substance use

    Improves memory

    • Our ability to remember is essential for being successful at work, study and in everyday life
    • Exercise improves our memory through the influential impact it has on the health of the hippocampus located in the temporal lobes of the brain
    • High intensity exercise can make tis area bigger, cells healthier and increase the strength of the connections between the hippocampus and other areas of the brain 

    Reduces risk of brain disease

    • Includes disease such as dementia and stroke
    • Brain related disorders are seen to be more frequent in older adulthood, meaning people living with serious disability and poor quality of life has risen quickly
    • Exercise can reduce lots of risk factors associated with brain conditions including obesity and hypertension
    • There is evidence showing that being physical active in your life reduces the risk of developing dementia and stroke by apprxoimately 20-30%

    Can help those with brain disorders manage symptoms effectively

    • After a stroke, exercise can remarkably decrease the chance of having another stroke and improve physical function and quality of life
    • Research shows that exercise slows down the progression of various forms of dementia and boost symptoms of depression and anxiety which come with dementia
    • The type of exercise relies on the condition, the symptoms, stage of the disease and any other condition the individual may have

    What exercise is best for brain

    Exercising once has a quick beneficial effect on our brain health, but exercising over a longer period of time such as weeks, months and years results in more permanent positive changes to our brain health.


    Moderate intensity exercise

    • Includes a quick walk, slow jog or casual bike ride
    • Has an immediate impact on our thinking skills

    Vigorous intensity exercise

    • Anything that makes you huff and puff, making it hard to hold a conversation and resistance training
    • Activates biological changes that improves the health and increase the size of certain areas of the brain

    On another note, doing any sort of physical activity is better than doing none at all. Try to:

    • Be active on most, preferably all, days every week
    • Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 to 2.5 hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an combination of both each week
    • Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week, preferably on non-consecutive days

    References

    1. Kandola, A., Hendrikse, J., Lucassen, P. J., & Yücel, M. (2016). Aerobic Exercise as a Tool to Improve Hippocampal Plasticity and Function in Humans: Practical Implications for Mental Health Treatment. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00373
    2. Right, E. (2022, May 21). Boost your Brain – why movement is medicine for your mind! Exercise Right. https://exerciseright.com.au/boost-your-brain-why-movement-is-medicine-for-your-mind/
    3. Alty, J., Farrow, M., & Lawler, K. (2020). Exercise and dementia prevention. Practical Neurology, 20(3), 234–240. https://doi.org/10.1136/practneurol-2019-002335
    4. den Ouden, L., Kandola, A., Suo, C., Hendrikse, J., Costa, R. J., Watt, M. J., Lorenzetti, V., Chye, Y., Parkes, L., Sabaroedin, K., & Yücel, M. (2018). The Influence of Aerobic Exercise on Hippocampal Integrity and Function: Preliminary Findings of a Multi-Modal Imaging Analysis. Brain Plasticity, 4(2), 211–216. https://doi.org/10.3233/bpl-170053