We all know that exercise is good for us. However, we tend to associate exercise with our heart health, which, whilst true, is not the only thing exercise is good for. It is seriously important for our brain health. Lack of activity is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are 3 ways in which exercise supports our brain health.
1.Exercise fertilises the brain.
There is now robust evidence that exercise helps to build the brain – I don’t want to get all science geek on you (I’m not one!) but there is a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is a kind of fertiliser for the brain. After acute exercise such as high intensity interval training (HIIT) your levels of BDNF in your blood stream rise by as much as up to 300%! BDNF promotes our neurons abilities to build new connections and acts as a first aid kit for any brain cells in need of repair. Our brain experiences increased plasticity and connectivity, improving our ability to both make and retain memories.
As a result of exercise, improved blood flow to the brain also improves the health of your blood vessels which is important in terms of vascular dementia risk. And improved blood flow helps to remove chemicals in the blood stream that are toxic to the brain.
Recent research shows that exercise alters our brain chemistry to protect ageing synapses from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. You can read more here.
2. Exercise makes us more creative, improves our mood and reduces anxiety and depression.
Shane O’Mara, in his book “In Praise of Walking” says that walking is associated with improved mood, creativity and the general sharpening of our thinking. There is evidence that outdoor exercise in particular benefits those who suffer from depression and depression can be a marker for cognitive decline later in life. I think there is a lot of truth in the quote from Hippocrates ” If you are in a bad mood go out for a walk. If you’re still in a bad mood, go out for another walk. ” I certainly find walking helps me clear my mind, lift my mood and generally feel more positive. Try it and see.
Dr.Lisa Mosconi says in her book, The XX Brain, that exercise causes actual physical changes in the brain that not only act as a safeguard against future dementia, but also invigorate our abilities to think, reason, and remember the here and now. Enhanced blood flow caused by exercise pumps more oxygen and nutrients to the brain. It makes sense doesn’t it? It explains why we feel good post exercise.
3. Exercise can help us sleep well
Good sleep is essential for our brains. We all know what is feels like to be sleep deprived – we feel groggy, slow and often have a headache. Sleep is when the brain’s cleansing system kicks in to clear out proteins and other toxins. Exercising, particularly in the morning, outdoors helps with sleep. Our circadian clocks are kick started by early morning sunlight which means we will feel ready to sleep in the evening. This early morning light that enters our eyes gives knowledge to our nervous system and stimulates the cortisol we need for energy and focus.
In addition to the reasons above, exercise also helps us manage blood sugar levels; regular exercise means we are less likely to develop insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes both of which are significant risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.
So who’s going out for a walk now?
If you need help finding the motivation to exercise or just aren’t sure where to start, I can help you. I offer both health coaching and personal training sessions and I would be very happy to put together a bespoke coaching program just for you. Send me a message here or book a FREE 30 minute Discovery call here.