Exercise has many proven benefits for the body, but what about the brain? When you exercise, you feel great. Why is that? Studies show that exercise can improve your mood, improve your memory, and reverse or prevent brain atrophy. As we age, we lose brain cells, and we lose neuron connections, causing the brain to shrink in size. There are different types of atrophy. One type is when the brain shrinks in its entirety. This type of atrophy happens with unhealthy habits like stress, alcohol, and eating processed food-like products. The second type of atrophy is focal atrophy. This type of atrophy attacks specific areas of the brain. Focal atrophy can occur after an injury, infection, or certain underlying medical conditions. The natural aging process can also cause brain atrophy or loss of neuron connections. Certain diseases can cause neurodegenerative changes in your brain, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and many more. These neurodegenerative changes can lead to mild, moderate, or severe cognitive impairments. There is good news; there are many changes we can make in our day-to-day life to decrease our cognitive decline.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle—including a nutritious, organic diet, regular exercise, hydration, mental stimulation, adequate sleep, and social interaction. These can slow the progression of symptoms due to this normal aging process.
· Stress management—Stress is not only harmful to your body; it is harmful to your brain. There are many ways to manage stress, including meditation, exercise, yoga, breathwork, or being in nature.
Healthy eating and hydration—Chemicals, pesticides, and genetically engineered foods wreak havoc on the body. B12 deficiency and excessive alcohol intake have both proven to shrink the brain. Making small changes to you’re eating and supplementing when necessary can be very beneficial to your brain health.
· Exercise—Exercise is one of the best ways to reverse or prevent cognitive decline. Exercise, in general, will boost the production of your “feel good” hormones. It increases the release of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins improving your sleep, decreasing chronic pain, and boosting your mood. Exercise can improve your memory and lower your risk of cognitive impairments. So how does exercise improve your brain? As your heart rate increases through exercise, your blood flow will increase throughout your body and brain, bringing improved oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Some studies show that exercise improves the neuroplasticity in your brain. Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to grow and change. There are two ways the brain can change. One way is to produce new neuro-pathways through repetition. The second is to override and compensate for the damaged areas. So, if exercise is good for the brain…what is the best way to exercise?
Aerobic training has been shown to improve the cognitive function of the brain. The cognitive function includes improved memory, decision making, problem-solving, and attention. Aerobic training is excellent for the endorphin release and your “runners high,” where your body releases the feel-good hormones. Any form of aerobic exercise will light up the brain creating new neuro-pathways.
Studies show that strength training is excellent for improving the executive function of the brain. The executive functioning of the brain controls reasoning, planning, and problem-solving. Incorporating strength training into your workout will improve your ability to accomplish daily functional tasks like standing up out of a chair, getting out of a car, or carrying things around the house.
Yoga and Tai chi programs are great for balance training, improved posture, and improved pain management. Studies have shown that participants that incorporated yoga into their workouts have less stress, less anxiety, and report an overall reduced pain level.
Regardless of which exercise style you choose, it is essential to challenge the brain. Just as the saying goes, “If it does not challenge you, it will not change you.” It is essential to challenge the brain by increasing the intensity, duration, incorporating reaction training, or dual-tasking. Challenge both sides of your brain by moving your arms and legs at the same time or alternately. Another way to challenge your brain is to complete interval training. Interval training is a small burst of high-intensity exercise with shorter rest breaks. You can challenge the brain by challenging your balance throughout your exercise, standing on an uneven surface, one leg, etc. Reaction training can be agility training, throwing a ball, and trying to catch it while balancing. When dual tasking, you can incorporate brain teasers or cognitive challenges during your workout. By adding these styles of training to your workout, your brain will respond over time to the new repeated stimuli. The good news is that almost all types of exercise provide benefits to your brain health. Just switch it up and keep your brain guessing.
Wellness 360 specializes in training the body and the brain. We offer multiple types of exercise treatments to build neuropathways and create improved brain function. Our different classes include balance training, posture training, boxing, agility, yoga, strength, cardio, and so much more. For more information on how Wellness 360 can support your needs, check us out at www.wellness360fitness.com.