Doctorate Housewife

What my degree in IPE didn't teach me about baking, DIY, fitness, and life…

What’s your reason? – 4 Ways Exercise Helps Your Brain

So, what’s your reason? We all know that exercise is good for our bodies. We even know that it’s good for stress relief, but recent studies are demonstrating just how good for us for our brains. I just finished reading The First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds.

The book was better than I expected. Gretchen Reynolds does a great job summarising the latest exercise research and breaking it down into everyday language and (relatively) practical advice. A lot of the research I’ve read before, but one chapter really struck me- the chapter on exercise and the brain.

I suppose it’s no great surprise that this:

helps this:

Human brain NIH

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So here’s another reason to get off the couch and get your sweat on – brain health! The brain chapter in The First 20 Minutes starts with a story about a little sea creature called a squirt. A sea squirt starts its life floating around the sea looking for a home. Slowly the squirt starts to swim and it’s brain grows to help with the house hunting. But then it finds a home, settles down, and plants itself on the couch (so to speak). It never moves again and its brain dies. That’s right, its brain DIES! Without movement, the squirt has no further use for its brain and so it dies.

Sea Squirt - Didemnum molle - IMG_0704

Sea Squirt – Didemnum molle (Photo credit: Boogies with Fish)

We should learn from the sea squirt because our brains are also very dependent on movement. But the good news is that even a small amount of movement can make a big difference in brain function. Here’s a few of the specifics that impressed me.

1. Exercise slows cognitive decline to a halt. Researchers in Canada monitored cognitive activity and energy usage in a large group of elderly volunteers over the course of several years. Most were wholly sedentary, some got some moderate exercise (walking, gardening, etc) and a very few got some vigorous activity. The sedentary volunteers scored significantly worse in cognitive functions year after year. But the most active showed little decline. Getting up and moving really does help preserve memory and cognitive function. That’s a good enough reason for me to get my sneakers on!

Autumn days

(Photo credit: skipnclick)

2. Higher levels of aerobic fitness leads to more efficient information processing in children. Running around on the playground leads to higher test scores! So it seems, we don’t have to wait till old age to feel the cognitive benefits of exercise. Even kids feels the brain boost.

3. Exercise creates more neurons. In lab tests with mice, the mice that run around on those little wheels create 2 to 3 times as many neurons as those that just hang out in their cages. Preliminary studies suggest that the same thing happens in humans. These same studies also suggest that exercise doubles blood flow to the hippocampus (which is fundamental in memory creation and recall). The increased blood flow and extra neurons can slow down the natural hippocampus shrinkage as we age. So, do you want to remember where your keys are? Keep moving!

4. Exercise reduces anger and increases resilience. Have a boss that’s a bully, an incompetent subordinate who’s driving you mad? Go out and exercise. Scientists are still working on the whys and wherefores, but it seems that neurons born from exercise are preternaturally calm. The effects of these new zen cells take awhile to kick in, so if you’re just starting an exercise programme, give it 6-8 weeks and see how you feel.


zen* (Photo credit: Rocío Lara)

So, what’s your reason?


5 comments on “What’s your reason? – 4 Ways Exercise Helps Your Brain

  1. myhealthyohana
    August 24, 2012

    Great post! My dad just turned 80 and is still working full time. He stays active, which keeps him really sharp mentally 🙂 I need to get more exercise in at some point too, for right now we’re just taking walks together!

    • Jessi
      August 25, 2012

      Thank you – this kind of topic really inspires. Good on your dad, that’s awesome!

      Give yourself time – it’s really the long term that counts. Besides walking is super exercise both for the body and for getting time to chat. Keep it up! And thanks for sharing =)

  2. Pingback: What’s your reason? Exercise to live healthier longer « Doctorate Housewife

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This entry was posted on August 24, 2012 by in What's your reason and tagged , , , , .

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