Exercising our bodies is good for our brains, too!
By Shannon Linberg
It is so important, especially now, to get up and move around. Exercise can be an escape from reality, a stress reliever, an endorphin-booster, and an overall reason to get out of our seats and do something for ourselves. We know that exercise can leave us feeling empowered when we find the activities we love to do, and now more than ever we need to give ourselves strength, care, and confidence. But the effects of exercise go beyond the physical, impacting us on levels that go deeper than we think of on a daily basis.
It is no secret that exercise comes with benefits. The world has long been promoting exercise for many health-related reasons. Whether it be preventing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pulmonary deficits, or fortifying our bodies against the general physical tolls of aging, exercise is a powerful tool for keeping ourselves healthy.
Research has shown that among the many benefits of exercise, it can benefit our brains as well! According to studies done in the late 2000s, “…sustained exercise participation enhances learning and memory, improves executive function, counteracts age-related and disease related mental decline, and protects against age-related atrophy in brain areas crucial for higher cognitive processes”. (Cotman, Berchtold, & Christie, 2007)
Executive functions have been described by these studies as “…processes… which include scheduling, planning, working memory, multi-tasking and dealing with ambiguity”. (Hillman, Erickson, & Kramer, 2008) What does this mean for us? It means that exercise, while also enhancing memory and learning abilities, assists in sharpening our minds when it comes to making decisions, completing tasks, time management, and understanding social cues.
Especially as we age, our brain volume tends to decrease, and we lose a certain number of connections that assist in these abilities. Exercise has been shown to increase the volume in the brain, enhancing the connections normally lost with the effects of aging. This is such a simple and special tool to use for our own health and longevity. Physically, exercise fortifies our bones and keeps us balanced and strong and independent. Mentally, exercise combats the tolls of aging, the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s, and keeps us sharper than we may otherwise be.
At any age, these functions of the mind are crucial to daily life. On top of the physical benefits to exercise, it is important to acknowledge everything exercise is doing for us inside our brains as well. Exercise is truly a form of medicine, and we should be excited about all that it can do for us.
About the author: Shannon Linberg is an Active For Life instructor, Certified Exercise Physiologist with a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science. She has a strong belief in the phrase "exercise is medicine". Shannon has a background in working on the medical side of exercise physiology with cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, and takes every opportunity to further challenge herself in helping others to live fuller lives.
Colcombe, S. J., Erickson, K. I., Scalf, P. E., Kim, J. S., Prakash, R., McAuley, E., . . . Kramer, A. F. (2006). Aerobic Exercise Training Increases Brain Volume in Aging Humans. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, 1166-1170.
Cotman, C. W., Berchtold, N. C., & Christie, L.-A. (2007). Exercise builds brain health: key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation. Trends in Neurosciences, 464-472.
Hillman, C. H., Erickson, K. I., & Kramer, A. F. (2008, January). Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 58-65.