The brain, also known as our coordinating centre of sensation, intellectual, and nervous activity, is what maintains our thinking, memory, and functioning capabilities. When we are younger, we have all of these intact, and never have to think twice about the operational capacities of our brains. Yet, as we grow older this looming issue becomes more prevalent, and we have to actively work harder to preserve these properties. What if there was a way to do this, where the benefits are two-fold? A main approach to keeping your brain healthy, and sharp into our older years is through the means of exercise!
When we are exercising we are gradually increasing our heart rate, and breathing, creating more oxygen into our bloodstream. From there, more oxygen goes to the brain leading to the production of neurons, where memory and thinking are controlled. This process increases your cognitive reserve which is the brain’s ability to improvise and find alternate ways to get the job done. It has been found that the greater the cognitive reserve, the better we are able to starve off symptoms of degenerative brain changes associated with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or a stroke. For this reason, many rehabilitation, or treatments surrounding these involve some form of exercise.
Another reason why being active helps your brain, is it leads to greater brain plasticity. This is the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of an experience. In other words, it allows the brain to modify, or rewire itself. Without this, the human brain would be unable to develop through adulthood, or recover from a brain injury. Also, working out increases serotonin (happy hormone), and norepinephrine (stress hormone), which boosts information processing, and mood. This is why we constantly here the saying, “You will never regret a workout,” because we will always feel better after exercising. Also, many of our participants who have had mood swings due to strokes, or chronic conditions, mention how the exercises have greatly improved their mood.
Gomes-Osman, and her colleagues looked at 98 studies that involved over 11,000 participants that were on average 73 years old, which tested the benefits of exercise on the brain. 59 percent of the participants were deemed clinically healthy, whereas the others had some form of a degenerative brain disease. They found that at least 52 hours of exercise over an average of 6 months can lead to better processing speed, which refers to the amount of time the brain needs to process information, or carry out a task. Also, the healthy individuals showed improvement in their executive function, which is the brain’s ability to plan ahead, set, and achieve goals, as well as come up with strategies. As far as exercise type (aerobic, yoga, or strength), they were equally beneficial for the senior’s thinking skills.
Overall, exercise is multifaceted, as it helps both the body, and the mind. Even though it is scary to face our own time clocks, and there are many things out of our control, exercise is the one thing we have the choice to do. The best gift we can give ourselves, and others is the gift of health, and working out is the easiest, and cost effective way to do so.
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