Most of the benefits of exercise are no secret. They include weight-loss, reduced risk of stroke, reduced risk of heart disease, and reduced risk of diabetes. It is common knowledge that there is a link between exercising and depression prevention. Although your weight-loss doctor has educated you on many benefits, there may be another pressing motive to include exercise into your lifestyle. A study at the University of British Columbia suggests that regular exercise may positively impact memory and learning. Researchers found that cardiovascular exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that supports memory and learning. This is a huge discovery, considering dementia is predicted to affect more than 100 million people by 2050.
How Does Exercise Help the Brain?
The brain is impacted by everything we do. Things like lack of sleep, stress, and insulin levels affect the vitality of the brain. Exercise impacts these factors in various ways. Exercise manages insulin levels, reduces inflammation, and helps stimulate the growth of new blood vessels in the brain. Exercise stimulates the release of growth factors that stimulate new brain cells to develop and help sustain those new brain cells.
Exercise also improves indirect factors surrounding brain health. Some of these factors include mood, sleep, stress, and anxiety. Working out on a regular basis has been linked to better sleep. Because physical activity releases endorphins, exercise has also been connected to a better mood, stress management, and anxiety management. All of these factors have a huge impact on how the brain operates and functions.
Numerous studies show that people who exercise regularly have a prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex that are larger in volume versus people do not exercise. Researchers also found that incorporating moderate intensity exercise to your lifestyle for as little as six months may increase the volume of the memory storing areas of the brain.
If the workout gets your heart pumping, then your brain is probably going to benefit from the activity. One study documented participants who got 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week did see improvements in the volume of their brain. Even though there were some improvements for those participants, a better recommendation would be 150 minutes of exercise a week, working out more days of the week than not. Some ideas for moderate intensity workouts include dancing, swimming, tennis, or jogging. Check with your weight-loss doctor for recommendations based on your specific program.