A study from the University of British Columbia shows that the size of the hippocampus appears to increase with regular aerobic exercise. The hippocampus is the area of the brain dealing with verbal memory and learning. Other studies suggest that the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex increase volume with exercise. A “study of studies” published in Sports Medicine Open reviewed 15 studies of low intensity exercise in older adults, and 11 of the 15 showed balance or mood improvements with regular low intensity exercise. Some studies have shown that exercise causes growth and promotes longer life of brain cells.
Exercise usually reduces stress and improves the quality of sleep, leading to better mental clarity. Exercise tends to reduce insulin resistance, also leading to clearer thinking. A study in Brain Plasticity Journal showed that both low and high intensity exercise showed a significant mood improvement.
What’s amazing here is just how much exercise affects your brain. Yes, there are many other benefits, but the mind is a major beneficiary!
Breaking it Down
That same study in Brain Plasticity Journal showed that low intensity exercise led to better attention and cognitive processing, while high intensity led to better emotional processes. This suggests that when you need to clear your head and think more clearly, your best approach may be to talk a brisk walk.
These studies show that exercise gives you immediate results. Your real goal is to make your body a high metabolism, fat burning machine. Getting there requires regular effort. This is where putting exercise in your schedule, and sticking to it, makes the long-term difference. As you do some exercise regularly, your ability to do more increases. Some benefits of a sustained exercise program are:
- As you strengthen, you are able to take on more exercise safely — less risk of strains or falls.
- Stronger bones as the skeletal system adjusts to the increasing load.
- Weight loss, muscle gain.
- Lowered risk of many diseases.
- A higher metabolism, giving you greater blood flow even when not exercising.
Then there is the factor of nutrition. Without proper food intake, exercise will be a hard, frustrating process with disappointing gains. Proper food consists of the raw, living plant diet with plenty of good fat to sustain your exercise efforts.
Choosing the best exercise can be very individual to your situation. Consider:
- What age group are you in?
- Do you have any special conditions that would limit your exercise?
- What exercise options are readily available to you?
- What types of exercise you find most enjoyable?
For instance, high impact exercise might not be appropriate for you if your joints or skeletal structure is not able to handle the stress. Poor nutrition will make proper exercise much more difficult. But motivation is perhaps the toughest factor to overcome.
Face it — exercise requires pushing your body to work. It is much easier to just sit and relax. You know the value of exercise, but how do you get past the resistance you feel? Here are some ideas:
- Consider little physical jobs as worthwhile chances to improve your mental clarity and strengthen your body. Maybe you work on the fifth floor — take the stairs regularly! The extra time you spend doing so will be more than compensated by the benefits that come after this small workout. Use the push mower to cut the grass, or shovel the driveway without the snow blower. These little exercise opportunities add up.
- Seek out the environment you most enjoy. If it is a nice day outside, take advantage of it with a walk. Perhaps you prefer swimming. If you want to be with people, team sports may be your best choice, or maybe dancing strikes your fancy.
- Find others to support you. You can form a walking club at work, or schedule times to do something active with friends. Hold each other accountable.
- Don’t let a day get away from you. Schedule exercise at a certain time each day, or put some activity on your calendar for a few times each week. Don’t procrastinate with exercise, or you probably will find yourself to be a couch potato.
We’ve seen from studies that exercise helps your mind immediately. Let that be the driver that gets you started with exercise. Get addicted to the routine, and keep it going. Then you will see all the benefits exercise can bring!
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
Exercise is vital to your health — that is why it is one of our 7 Basic Steps to Total Health. What these studies showed is not only can exercise grow your brain and balance your emotions, but that different types of exercise work in different ways on the body. So make sure you are doing plenty of low intensity exercise activities daily along with some higher intensity but short duration exercises. This can be as simple as going up and down the stair for one minute intense or very briskly walking then reverting back into a normal pace. The most important message is to do it, and to do it every day.