The Brain-Boosting Power of Exercise & What Kind of Exercise Works Best

In the TED talk below, Wendy Suzuki reveals to us how exercising is possibly more important than studying mathematics for those of us interested in mental health!

Wendy Suzuki - TEDx - The brain-changing benefits of exercise

5 Benefits of Exercising
Regular exercise is one of the best things you could possibly do to boost your brain power.

Here are five reasons why:

1) Enhances Cognition
When we exercise, we get our hearts pumping!

This increases blood flow to all areas of the body, which allows us to think more clearly and come up with smarter solutions to our everyday problems.

Another way of looking at this is through understanding that neurons have more mitochondria than almost any other part of the body. Mitochondria take in oxygen in the form of the air we breathe and water to produce ATP or energy.

When we supply our brains with more oxygen via exercise, we are effectively increasing the amount of energy available to our neurons!

This naturally improves our ability to process information and enhances cognition and executive function.

Not only does this provide the brain with more energy, but it supplies other areas of the body, such as the gut, with more energy also. When fundamental bodily processes run smoothly, the body can place more attention on other things such as cognition and rational thinking, helping us further to think better.

It’s not surprising that in studies revolving around children, it was revealed that exercise bolsters academic performance in school in all the above-mentioned ways[1] Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition.

2) Improves Memory
It has long been understood that exercise helps to improve memory, as long as the exercise is done in moderation on a regular basis.

It was revealed during an experiment on Japanese students that exercising on a treadmill indeed improved working memory. However, reaction time in the students decreased when their heart rates got too high (exceeding 70% of maximal heart rate) [2]Executive function during and after acute moderate aerobic exercise in adolescents.

This is because after this threshold is reached, the exercise begins to apply pressure on the body to perform, which results in the minor release of stress chemicals. Stress chemicals detract from working memory.

Anyone who has “turned blank” while addressing an audience or during an exam will understand this quite well!

3) Boosts Mood and Reduces Stress
Moderate exercise improves people’s moods and simultaneously lowers stress!

This is because exercise tends to release Endorphins. Endorphins are one of the primary ‘feel good’ chemicals in the body.

Exercise also works the mitochondria, which not only starts supplying the body with more energy but also helps them to mop up free radicals.

Science has started to uncover that these tiny cellular components are a crucial part of our immune system and without them, we would not be able to combat stress or live longer lives. Exercise helps to keep them in balance, which allows them to also convert free roaming oxygen particles (free radicals) into energy!

Concerning clinical depression, exercise helps to improve neurogenesis by strengthening neural connections in the brain. This, in turn, aids the brain in docking more serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine, fundamental neurotransmitters responsible for feeling happy and light-hearted.

4) Reduces Risks Associated With Neurodegenerative Disorders
If you are worried about how your brain might be fairing as you get older, then you should definitely add moderate exercise to your daily routine!

In studies carried out with older participants over a two-year period, it was proven using brain scans that exercise protected their brains from atrophying – in other words, from shrinking!

Moreover, exercise appeared to improve cognition, memory as well as increase the size of the brain in terms of white matter[3]Long-Term Effects of Resistance Exercise Training on Cognition and Brain Volume in Older Women: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial.

5) Increases Neuroplasticity
A lot of research has gone into how exercise is utterly critical for children as they grow older.

This is because exercise is essential for maintaining fluid neuroplasticity and laying down the foundations for new neural connections involved with both motor coordination and learning[4]Sixty minutes of what? A developing brain perspective for activating children with an integrative exercise approach.

As it happens, exercise is likely still important for maintaining fluid neuroplasticity in adults and data suggests it does so quite effectively!

Doing more than one type of exercise is also more effective at enhancing neuroplasticity than just settling on one.

Each kind of movement that one engrains into their muscle memory is essentially creating a new set of neural connections in the brain. The more one practices these, the easier it becomes to adapt as well as learn new skills.

What Kind of Exercises Works Best For Improving Mental Abilities?
Some exercises are better at working your brain than others. Here are the best ones for promoting the benefits listed above.
1) Resistance Training
Resistance training was shown to be more effective than balance-and-toning exercises.

These are exercises that include lifting weights and building core muscle strength. The basic idea is to induce muscle contractions through increasing resistance against the muscle.

It is not necessary to go and buy fancy equipment to do this form of exercise, as one can also use one’s own body weight to build strength and reap the benefits.

Examples of resistance training include sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups. Yoga can also count as a form of this exercise.

This type of exercise is not enough to remain fit, however, as it’s purely anaerobic exercise. One also needs aerobic exercise to remain balanced.

2) Aerobic exercise
Aerobic exercise is important to increase heart rate and blood flow throughout the body.

These include exercises such as aerobics, jogging, playing sports, dancing and anything else that gets your heart pumping!

Tips for Making The Most Out Of Exercise For Your Brain
Aside from doing the right forms of exercise, there are little things one can do to tweak their exercise routine to extract maximum benefit.
1) Exercise Regularly
Exercising for 10 minutes every day is better for your health than exercising for 1 hour once a week.

Don’t over-exert yourself when doing exercise, but instead, richer aim to raise your heartbeat slightly and perhaps sweat a little.

Eventually, you will see that doing the same amount of exercise will not be enough to get your heart pumping and you’ll have to increase gradually to keep up with your growing fitness levels.

Overdoing it can cause your body to stress and burn through more resources instead of giving you the desired effects.

2) Additional Cognitive Engagement
If you want to really boost your brain power while doing exercise, try to make it more stimulating for your brain[5]Cognitively Engaging Chronic Physical Activity, But Not Aerobic Exercise, Affects Executive Functions in Primary School Children: A Group-Randomized Controlled Trial..

Joining a sports club is often a great way of doing this as while one plays a sport, there is more going on in the brain than just mere exercising. You have to focus on who to pass the ball to and strategize all while exerting yourself physically.

Other ways of making exercise more stimulating for your mind is shifting between different forms of exercise, making up your own games while playing or exercising while learning a new skill, such as dance.

In other words, the more areas of your brain that are engaged while you are participating in the exercise, the better!

3) Drink Water
It’s important to keep hydrated during and especially after exercise, particularly if you break out into a sweat.

Water is also a more abundant source of oxygen than the air you breathe. If your chest gets tight or you feel like you are over-heating during exercise, a sip of water can often be just the thing you need to keep going!

Mineral water is healthier for you than tap water and also contains more of the nutrients you need to maintain a post-workout balance.

If you have become fit enough to do enough exercise to sweat profusely, then you’ll want to consider a post-workout meal or shake.

4) Post-Workout Shakes or Snacks
Post-workout shakes or snacks tend to be balanced foods that contain a healthy balance of proteins for muscle development, as well as electrolytes for rehydration.

These are great for maintaining well-toned muscles and even better for bolstering your brain power!

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