Physical Exercise and the Brain
When people talk about brain exercises they are usually referring
to mental challenges that improve brain function, such as puzzles
or neurobics. Those are certainly useful, and are covered on
this site. There are a couple links to those pages at the bottom
of the page. But the research keeps showing that the brain benefits
from physical exercise as well. Here are some of the ways exercising
the body helps the brain.
1. It's a mood elevator for most, and brains function better
when in a better mood.
2. It tends to regulate blood sugar level. This is important
for diabetics, but also because irregular blood sugar levels
can give you "brain fog."
3. It improves circulation of blood within the whole body,
including the brain.
4. It improves the oxygenation of the blood, meaning more
fuel for the brain.
5. It helps lower blood pressure, which lets the brain operate
6. It has been shown to relieve depression.
7. Studies suggest that exercise enhances the production of
nerve growth factor. This helps cells in the brain form new connections.
8. Exercise boosts the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine
and norepinephrine, which affect mood and help us retain memories.
What Kind of Exercise?
Which types of exercise are best? Aerobic exercise seems to
be the most beneficial for the brain. It boosts the oxygenating
capacity of the heart and lungs. Twenty minutes of exercise that
boosts the heart rate, done three or four times weekly, is the
usual recommendation. Walking is my personal favorite for many
reasons, including the immediate clarity of the mind that seems
to come from this rhythmic and relaxing exercise.
But there is more than just a long-term benefit from exercise.
The research clearly shows that exercise immediately boosts brain
function as well. Ten minutes of walking, swimming, or pedaling
on an exercise machine is enough for this effect. Toward the
end of this article there will be a couple simple guidelines
for you to remember if you want to get the right types and amounts
of exercise for maximum brainpower.
More About Exercise and the Brain
The relationship between physical exercise and your brain
health and function is actually a bit more complex than some
tips suggest. For example, research shows that activities involving
hand-eye coordination is especially good for the growth of new
neurons in the brain. These activities include playing ping pong,
tennis, running an obstacle course, and playing a piano. Video
games - when played in moderation - are also likely to be beneficial.
So should you start playing tennis for twenty-minute stretches
several times weekly, in order to boost your brain function?
Maybe not. The proper answer might depend on whether you enjoy
playing tennis or get stressed by the competitive nature of it.
That's right; how you feel about the activity may make a difference
in terms of the brain-boosting effects.
Research at the Salk Institute found that mice which regularly
ran on an exercise wheel grew twice as many new brain cells as
those which were inactive. No big surprise there. However, mice
which exercised by swimming did not have a similar growth of
new brain cells. Researchers speculate that this is due to the
fact that swimming is not an activity the mice would normally
choose, and it stresses them. Stress has been shown to slow or
stop the growth of brain cells.
What does this mean for us humans? If the researcher's speculations
are correct, and the same results are found in humans, exercise
alone may not be that great for the brain. It seems that you
need to exercise, but in a way that you enjoy (or at least in
a way that doesn't cause you more stress).
Exercise for the Brain: Guidelines
Here are those guidelines that I promised you:
1. Do ten minutes of any aerobic exercise for a quick boost
2. Do twenty minutes of any aerobic exercise three times weekly
for long term health of body and brain.
3. For the maximum positive effects, do twenty minutes of
any aerobic exercise that involves hand-eye coordination and
which you enjoy at least three times each week.
The Mental Exercises
When you are done boxing (well maybe the hand-eye coordination
benefits are canceled out by the brain-pounding damage), you
can continue your brain work with mental workouts. Here are a
couple pages that index some of our content on neurobics and
riddles and other mental exercises:
And, of course, continue to read The Mind Power Report
for more on both the physical and mental exercises. If you are
not already subscribed, the subscription form should be in the
sidebar and is always on the home page.