25 march 2015 move header

MOVE

Build your brain with exercise

As an exercise physiologist, I constantly find myself talking about the many added benefits of exercise including improved sleep, stress reduction and a brightened mood. But I get many surprised reactions when I tell people that exercise builds brain power in a way that not even thinking does.

The brain-boosting benefits of exercise include:

  • a brain that resists physical shrinkage, especially in parts of the brain that control thinking (prefrontal cortex) and memory (medial temporal cortex)
  • enhanced cognitive flexibility
  • an increase in oxygen to the brain
  • a surplus of hormones, which supports the growth of brain cells
  • stimulated brain plasticity by repairing and stimulating connections between brain cells

If you're interested in getting more benefit for your brain out of your workout try these four tips:

  1. Do activities with both physical and mental demands, such as dancing and martial arts. The best brain workouts integrate different parts of your brain, such as coordination, rhythm and strategy.
  2. Exercise in the morning, it spikes brain activity and prepares you for the mental stress of the day. It also increases retention of new information and improve your ability to react to complex situations.
  3. Dial up the intensity, usually the more intense the exercise, the more benefit for your brain. But remember to slowly work up to higher intensity activity to avoid injury and setbacks.
  4. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise (think walking) five days a week, or 150 minutes a week. 

Any activity that gets your heart rate up will achieve positive benefits for your body and your brain. The important thing is to commit to establishing exercise as a habit, like taking a medication. After all, exercise is medicine.

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