Flex for Your Brain
Looks like exercise does more than help you sculpt a better bod: it keeps your mind on point, too.
By Sofia Rodriguez
Exercise can keep the doctor away in more than one way! Working out is a key component for losing body fat and adding lean muscle, and scientists are finding exciting new evidence that breaking a sweat is also beneficial to the brain. Take a look at the latest research on how fitness can help make you smarter and happier.
Increases Brain Power
Stanford University researchers found that even a low intensity walk at work increases creativity up to 60 per
cent. “One’s level of creativity is directly related to the level of mental alertness and capacity to make new connections and learning,” explains Dr Pierce J. Howard, managing director of research and development at the Centre for Applied Cognitive Studies in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Aerobic exercise promotes both these brain functions by oxygenating blood flow to the brain, resulting in more fuel for brain activity and alertness.” Having more innovative ideas translates to better production in the workplace and even enhances our other relationships. “Exercising is the perfect way to open up your conscious mind to those back-burner ideas floating around in your subconscious,” says Dr Keith Sawyer, associate professor at Washington University and author of Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Taking a lunch-break stroll with co-workers may improve company dynamics and ensure deadlines are met!
Helps You Stay Sharp
The size of the hippocampus, a structure of the brain involved with memory, usually decreases with age, putting individuals at a higher risk for dementia. A study done by psychologist Dr Kirk Erickson showed aerobic exercise actually increased hippocampal volume by 2 per cent. Exercise sparks neurogenesis, a process during which new brain cells are formed. “Our research over the past two-plus years has found that older adults show a number of benefits from exercise, including improvements in attention, executive control and memory, as well as healthier brains,” says Dr Art Kramer, director of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois. Make it a habit to include your family members in your workout routine, especially the older ones!
Boosts Your Mood
Studies show exercise boosts those “feel good” neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, improving mood and fatigue with longer duration exercise. “Plenty of research shows that people who are physically active report less depression, anxiety and fatigue and that these benefits may help explain why they sleep better, too,” says professor Dr Rodney K. Dishman, from the University of Georgia. “Although there is no single effect of exercise on
the brain that explains the mental health benefits of exercise, animal studies show exercise can increase the growth factors that improve brain health and resistance against stress.” The next time you are feeling down or need to relieve stress, getting that heart rate up may be the best remedy.