22 Jul Exercise For Healthy Brains
We all know that exercise is one of the main ways to improve our health and wellbeing as we age. Exercise not only has its physical benefits to improve cardiorespiratory fitness but has shown to prevent and recover from a number of chronic conditions. There has been extensive research into physical exercise for a healthy brain. But what type of exercise will have the best effect?
Whether you have had a brain injury), a stroke, been diagnosed with dementia or even just want to maintain or improve your brain health, regular exercise has shown to physically change the structure of the brain to improve memory and thinking skills. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to decrease inflammation and release growth factors (which improve the health of brain cells and blood vessels in the brain). There have even been some new research into the intensity of exercise and preventing the onset of dementia.
At the moment, aerobic exercise has been research more extensively in the field of brain health. With the addition of improved heart health and endurance, aerobic exercise (including walking, swimming or cycling) has also shown to foster new brain cell growth and preserve existing cells. It is recommended that you participate in 30mins on most days of the week. A good cue to how hard you should be working is that you should be able to talk but too out of breath to sing while exercising. Research has shown that repetitive exercise can assist with improve “neuroplasticity” or “creating new neural pathways” in the brain. Norman Doige has written a fantastic book called The Brain That Changes Itself which discusses neuroplasticity providing hope to those with mental limitations.
There has also been some solid research is resistance training and brain health. As we know, strength training not only builds muscle and strength bones, but it can also boost brain power, enhance concentration and increase decision making skills. It is recommended that you participate in strength training 2-3 x weekly with a combination of functional muscle groups exercised.
Although there hasn’t been specific research into flexibility and balance exercises and brain health, there are a multitude of benefits if performed correctly. Research has shown however, that performing new activities keeps the brain active to learn new things. Improved balance and flexibility have shown to make daily activities easier and develop mobility. Exercises can include things like Tai Chi or other balance specific exercises. If you’re tech savy, there are even some cool apps to assist with brain health and balance like Clock Yourself. This app encourages you to think on your feet and react quickly to various activities. Be sure to check in with your exercise physiologist what type or combination of exercises are right for you!
For more information, check out the resources and latest information on dementia or stroke) or contact your health care professional or visit Exercise is Medicine Australia to view the public fact sheets for Exercising with Mental Health Conditions.
Click here to find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist near you.
Written by Elise Hoyer (BExSS (maj. CEP) Hons 1, GradCertDEM, AEP, AES, ESSAM, CDE, ADEAM )