Exercise Improves Cognition

There are lots of good reasons to exercise regularly, including reducing your risk of life-threatening diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, lower blood pressure, combat depression, look better and live longer. Now add a new reason: exercise helps the brain protect memory and sharpens thinking!

In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results.

The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells. Exercise of course improves mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety, all of which can accelerate cognitive impairment.

Many studies have observed that the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex, areas of the brain that control thinking and memory actually have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.   This means that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions and can sharpen cognition and memory.

So what does this mean? That everyone should engage in moderate intensity exercise for at least 30min most days of the week, or 120-150 minutes a week. If that seems overwhelming, start with a few minutes each day and slowly increase your amount of exercise by 10min a week until you reach your goal. Discipline can get in the way for many. Consider joining a class or finding motivation in others, like a personal trainer or even a friend who can hold you accountable so you endure with your exercise regimen. Track your progress which encourages you to reach your goals.

Commit to incorporating exercise in your life and improve your mental longevity, in addition to the host of other benefits!

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