Exercise is not only good for your body, but also for your brain. A new video by Big Think explains how moving your body can help you grow your brain, improve your mood, and prevent cognitive decline.
According to exercise neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki, who is a professor of neural science and psychology at New York University, exercise can boost your brain function in several ways. First, it increases the levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline, which are responsible for mood, motivation, and attention. Second, it stimulates the growth of new brain cells, especially in the hippocampus, which is involved in long-term memory and spatial navigation. Third, it enhances the connections between brain cells, making them more efficient and resilient.
Suzuki says that just three months of consistent exercise can have noticeable effects on your brain health. She cites a study that showed that people who were previously sedentary experienced significant improvements in their baseline mood, prefrontal function, and hippocampal function after engaging in two to three exercise sessions per week over several months. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that controls executive functions, such as planning, decision-making, and self-control. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is most vulnerable to aging and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
Exercise intensity matters, but moderation is key
Suzuki also explains how increasing the intensity of your exercise can yield greater benefits for your brain. She says that high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with periods of rest, can boost your brain’s ability to adapt and learn new things. HIIT can also increase the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is essential for brain plasticity and survival.
However, Suzuki warns that too much exercise can be harmful, as it can cause inflammation, oxidative stress, and overtraining syndrome. She advises that you should listen to your body and find the optimal level of exercise that works for you. She also recommends that you vary your exercise routine and include different types of activities, such as aerobic, strength, balance, and flexibility exercises, to target different aspects of your brain health.
Exercise can help you age gracefully and optimally
Suzuki says that exercise is one of the best ways to prevent cognitive decline and dementia, as it can protect your brain from the effects of aging and environmental factors. She says that exercise can also enhance your cognitive reserve, which is the ability of your brain to cope with damage and disease. She suggests that you should start exercising as early as possible, and maintain a regular and consistent habit throughout your life.
Suzuki also emphasizes that exercise is not the only factor that influences your brain health. She says that you should also pay attention to other lifestyle factors, such as nutrition, sleep, stress management, social interaction, and mental stimulation. She says that by combining exercise with these other factors, you can optimize your brain health and enjoy a better quality of life.