In order to protect your cognitive health or even improve your memory and brain function, exercise should come first. Evidence shows exercise improves memory and cognition and helps stave off dementia. A 2010 study on primates revealed regular exercise did help monkeys learn new tasks twice as fast as those not exercising.
Working your leg muscles has been shown to have a particularly strong impact on brain function and memory. A recent study, as published in the journal Neurology, physical activity can slow the brain aging by as much as 10 years. Nearly 900 seniors participated in a study where 90% engaged in light exercise or none at all. The remaining 10% did medium-to-high intensity exercise. Older adults who reported light or not exercise experienced a cognitive decline equal to 10 more years of aging than those who were moderate to intense exercisers. Author Dr. Clinton B. Wright stated that their study showed that for older people, getting regular exercise may be protective as well as helping them keep their cognitive abilities longer.
Exercise promotes brain health by releasing hormones like brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) from the muscles and encourages the growth of new brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis or neuroplasticity. The brain’s memory center (hippocampus) is adaptable and capable of growing new cells through your entire lifetime and even into your 90’s. In a study, exercising mice grew an average of 6,000 new brain cells in every cubic millimeter of hippocampal tissue sampled. A year-long study found that adults who exercised regularly enlarged their brain’s memory center by 1 to 2 percent per year where typically the hippocampus tends to shrink with age. Exercise helps protect brain function by:
Improving and increasing blood flow to your brain, reducing damage plaques in your brain, increasing production of nerve-protecting compounds, lowering levels of inflammatory cytokines associated with chronic inflammation and obesity, preventing brain shrinkage by preserving both gray and white matter in your frontal, temporal and parietal cortexes, stimulating production of a protein called FNDC5, which triggers the production of BDNF and reducing impact of bone-morphogenetic protein (BMP).
Psychological health and good mood are also promoted by exercise. Exercise is also known to dispel depression. Exercise promotes mental health by normalizing insulin resistance and boosting natural “feel good” endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and GABA. It has been tested out that well-trained muscles have higher levels of an enzyme that helps metabolize a stress chemical called dynurenine.
We try to explain to our patients at New Hope Unlimited that exercising your muscles actually helps rid your body of stress chemicals that promote depression. The muscles purge your body of harmful substances.
Researchers have found that women who sat for more than 7 hours a day were found to have a 47% higher risk of depression than those who sat for 4 hours or less per day. Those not participating in any physical activity had a 99% higher risk of developing depression that those who exercised. A brisk walk can increase creativity up to 60%.
Let’s make a pact to get out there for a daily walk. If outdoors is too hot, go to the mall and join the dozens of people walking the halls for healthy exercise. Just don’t be taken in by the store sales, ok?
–Dr Fredda Branyon