Exercise Is Good For Your Brain As Well As Your Body
At this point, everyone knows the benefits of exercise for your body. It also turns out that exercise is good for your brain. Exercise can improve attention, memory, alertness and information processing.
A recent article in Outside Magazine delves into some of the benefits
Decades of research have gone into examining the effect of exercise on attention, memory, and visual sensitivity, according to Richard Maddock, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Davis. “There is a very consistent finding that the brain works better after exercise,” Maddock says.
It makes sense, because our bodies evolved for movement and physical exertion, not the sedentary lifestyle so many now live. Where we used to achieve those goals through everyday living, we now must seek out opportunities to give evolution what it demands.
The article continues
Aerobic exercise appears to lead to changes in both the structure of the brain and the way it operates, which together bolster learning in kids, give adults an edge on cognitive tasks, and protect against the cognitive declines that often come with age.
Exercises causes shifts in brain waves that make us more alert, sharpen our perceptions, builds and restocks neurotransmitters and can even alleviate depression.
Most interestingly to me, exercise can have the effect of making the brain younger:
… research shows that aging exercisers have increased gray-matter volume in regions associated with general intelligence and executive function, which encompasses everything from attention to planning to problem-solving skills. Studies also show that fit adults have healthier white-matter tracts—the superhighways that connect various regions of gray matter—in the basal ganglia, a critical region for balance and coordination.
Finally, exercise appears to increase the number of neurons and the number of connections between them. Neurons are specialized cells that transmit information throughout the body. The more connections,
A 2016 study from the University of Arizona, for example, found that cross-country runners had increased connectivity between parts of the brain involved in memory, attention, decision-making, multitasking, and processing sensory information—the very same regions that tend to be hit hardest as we age …
From a purely anecdotal point of view, I find that I feel less sharp and focused throughout the day on those rare occasions when I miss my 5 am stationary bicycle rides. There’s nothing like getting the heart rate up and the joints moving to make the rest of the day better.
I have long thought that the sharpness was just getting a jump start out of sleepy grogginess. Now it seems that I’m doing my brain some long-term good as well.