Can exercise keep your mind sharp?
There are so many benefits to exercise, from helping you lose or maintain weight to improving endurance and keeping your heart healthy, but what does it do to your brain? Just like any other muscle in your body, your brain needs to be kept active in order to keep it healthy, which also helps your mind to stay sharp.
While you might think that this means doing mental exercises will help you remember what’s on your shopping list or where you put your keys, physical exercise is just as important for brain health. In fact, a study performed by Cambridge University and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2010 found that regularly using brain training exercises on smartphones, tablets and computers didn’t really do much to improve general cognitive functioning.
In comparison, a number of different studies have found that regular physical activity can help to improve your cognitive abilities. This isn’t confined to a single age group either, as children up to elderly people are able to benefit from sharper minds due to regular exercise.
But how exactly does physical exercise benefit you mentally?
Exercise gets the blood pumping
To start with, exercise increases your heart rate, which means your heart is pumping more blood throughout your body. This includes your brain, which benefits from the extra blood flowing into it.
Blood carries oxygen, which is vital to all our organs and helps them to continue operating at as high a level as possible. Regularly getting more oxygen to your brain can, therefore, only be a good a thing, especially as your brain runs everything else in your body.
On top of this, getting the blood flowing allows your body and brain to release higher levels of hormones, many of which are vital to the growth and repair of brain cells. More working brain cells mean better cognitive function, so it is worth stepping on that treadmill.
Working out stimulates the brain
Another benefit to exercise on the brain is that it stimulates the growth of new cell connections. This happens in a number of areas of the brain that are vital for keeping your mind and memory sharp. Increasing brain plasticity ensures it continues to work correctly and fights off issues related to dwindling connections.
According to research from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), exercise causes increased growth factors in the brain so it is much easier for it to create new neural connections. As your brain requires millions of connections for even small tasks, this can only be beneficial.
Exercise helps to fight depression
Depression can affect a lot of people in many different ways, with one being that you don’t have the energy to exercise. However, this is a vital part of working through depression and experiencing good days, as exercise has been found to have effects that are similar to chemical antidepressants.
The idea of a ‘runner’s high’ has been spoken about for years, but it is actually based in fact. Exercise leads to a drop in stress hormones and releases endorphins, which can leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Regularly working out, therefore, could help to boost your mood and fight depression.
Studies have also found that exercise can lead to a higher rate of cell growth in the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. This suggests that as well as making you happier, it can also lead to better learning and memory, which can allow you to change your behaviour further and maintain your mental abilities.
This isn’t to say that you can skip out on mental exercises altogether, as they are still a vital part of keeping your brain running. However, using them alongside regular physical activities could help you to keep your mind sharp.