How Exercise Can Give Your Brain a Boost
Not long ago I had the pleasure of interviewing John Ratey, MD, Harvard Medical School’s famed psychiatrist and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain about the many benefits that regular exercise has for the brain. Dr. Ratey made it clear that working out with a consistent fitness routine, particularly cardio, produces large brain-boosting cognitive gains and helps fight dementia. He noted that exercise protects the brain by:
- Increasing production of nerve-protecting chemicals, and along with the “brain fertilizer,” brain-derived neurotrophic factor, BDNF, turbocharges learning, brain cell growth and mood
- Improves and increases blood flow and therefore provides more oxygen and glucose to the brain
- Improves release of hormones that promote growth and survival of brain cells
- Alters damaging proteins inside the brain, thus slowing the development of dementia.
- Stimulates brain plasticity by promoting growth of cell connectivity
- Aerobic exercise may inhibit the cognitive and biological impact brought about by aging
The latest neuroscience research findings from across the nation agree—exercise builds muscle power in the brain in a way that enhances cognitive abilities, reverses or slows age-related memory decline, turbocharges attentiveness and focus, and aids in relaxation and positive mood. The antidepressant effect of cardio activity is associated with cell growth in the hippocampus, which helps explain the boost the brain receives in learning and memory from activities such as high intensity interval training.
There’s no longer any doubt about it. Want to have more gray in your head? Er, not ON your head, but IN your head. Gray matter, that is. Then challenge your body. The more demanding the challenge, the better the gray matter likes it. In study after study, it’s shown that cardio and aerobic activity yields improvement in numerous cognitive tests, bulks up the brain with growth in the hippocampus, and leads to greater memory and learning.
The old belief that loss of brain function is inevitable is just that, an outdated belief. Yes, beginning in our late 20s there is about a 1 percent loss of volume in the hippocampus, but current research says that aerobic activity promoting neurogenesis, creating new brain cells, can slow and reverse that natural decline.
You may wonder, what’s the best exercise to promote all of these wonderful benefits to the brain? It’s clear that cardio, or aerobic activity, is number one. If it’s good for your heart, it’ll be great for your gray and white matter, especially for older adults. Morning workouts appear to jolt the brain best to prepare you for your day’s work, studying, or other activities that require focus, attention and new learning. Interestingly, dancing has been shown to have a particularly positive effect on brain functioning.
Cardio glide exercises on the Total Gym are safe, easy and reliable ways to increase your heart rate while building your brain muscle. Keep the glide board at an angle that will allow you to do many repetitions without stopping, let’s say of squats or jogging in place while lying on the glide board, allowing you to get your heart rate up to the 50-60% of max range.
The benefits of a jog, a Total Gym cardio workout, or a moderate to intense walk are long lasting, allowing you to take a week or two off from consistent exercise. Thanks to your brain’s chemical memory banks, high levels of BDNF will be created in only two days of high intensity interval training or other similar challenging aerobic activity restarting the benefit cycle once again.