Whether you love it, love to hate it, or just hate it - there’s no denying that exercise is good for you. It lowers your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer -- not to mention that the burst of endorphins your body gives you provides a lovely state of bliss and mental clarity.
More and more evidence is popping up, and helping us understand the long term effects of exercise on your brain. Dating as far back as the 1800's, the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal states that exercise "may be made to contribute to brain growth, and to the symmetrical development of the mental faculties."
Here are just a few ways your exercise habit could be helping you stay sharp:
Exercise Reduces Brain Inflammation
Ongoing inflammation causes progressive damage to the body that leads to a variety of diseases including arthritis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease.
But exercise is a powerful tool to help combat inflammation in the body. A study published in 2017 in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that just 20 minutes of moderate exercise decreased inflammation in almost 50 healthy volunteers!
Exercise Improves Glucose Metabolism in the Brain
When the glucose metabolism in the brain isn’t functioning properly it can affect a number of disorders, including diseases like Alzheimer's. But according to results of a 2017 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, regular moderate-intensity exercise can improve glucose metabolism in the brain. After studying almost 100 middle-aged adults who were determined to be genetically at risk for the disease, researchers found that moderate-intensity activity was associated with improved glucose metabolism.
Exercise Improves Your Memory
Researchers say one new case of dementia is detected every four seconds globally. They estimate that by the year 2050, more than 115 million people will have dementia worldwide.
The hippocampus is the part of your brain responsible for learning, memory and emotion in the brain, and it's prone to shrinking with age. A 2015 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that “Aerobic training significantly increased hippocampal volume in older women with probable mild cognitive impairment”.
Another study analyzed the effects of aerobic exercise on the memories of breast cancer survivors. Researchers wanted to test the effects of activities like walking and swimming on “chemo brain,” a common symptom of breast cancer treatment involving memory loss and shortened attention span. After one week, those who exercised every day reported feeling less fatigued than those who did little to no exercise.
You can expect to feel some of this exercise’s positive side effects right away, such as a boost in mood. Others, like improved memory, might take several weeks before you notice them. So what are you waiting for?