How does exercise impact your brain?
The brain is a living, breathing organ, just like the rest of the body. And just like other organs, the brain is adaptable through something called neuroplasticity, or the ability for the brain to adapt and change to stimuli within a person’s environment. So it goes without saying that the environment that you’re in- be it literal, physical or emotional- can have a direct impact, for better or worse, on the neurological functioning of your brain. The healthier you are and the healthier your environment, the better your brain will function.
So how does exercise impact your brain? Well, recent research has shown that exercise increases the brains ability to adapt, by creating more neuroplasticity. In fact, exercise has been shown to do a number of key things:
- increase the release of chemicals, or neurotrophic factors in the brain that enhance the creation of new cells
- bring a greater connection of existing neurons, also called synaptogenesis
- create angiogenesis, which is the generation of new blood vessels.
Ultimately, this leads to a greater level of neurons, more connectivity and greater vascularisation in the brain.
Exercise is truly brain food. It releases the chemicals that improve cognitive functioning, (specifically, decision making) problem solving and cognitive flexibility (switching tasks). When it comes to the type of exercise, benefits to the brain have been seen in both aerobic exercise and strength training. Research shows that aerobic activity prevents brain shrinkage which in turn may delay or eliminate the risk of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life. Furthermore, aerobic exercise has been shown to significantly increase brain activity which leads to a better attention span, quicker decision making and a greater problem solving capacity.
Similarly, participating in something like resistance training as little as twice a week shows an increase in executive function, in cognitive control, greater cognitive flexibility and promotes a stronger working memory.
Overall, the key here is consistency and regularity. By participating in a resistance training program even twice a week along with regular aerobic exercise, you’ll not only improve your health but your mental capacity and cognitive functionality.
The benefits of exercise are never ending… so let’s get moving!