Exercise’s role in brain aging
“Exercise” refers to any number of healthful activities, ranging from mild activities such as walking and light dumbbell exercises to more intense forms such as marathon running or speed swimming. But no matter the intensity level, any form of physical activity provides many important health advantages: weight control; prevention of disease such as cardiovascular and type 2 diabetes; improved strength, flexibility and endurance; improving bone health and mood improvement as well as increasing life span are just a few benefits reaped through regular physical activity.
Did you know that regular exercise can also help preserve and even enhance your thinking and memory abilities? In addition to keeping blood vessels healthy and stimulating the development of new ones in the brain, exercise has direct ramifications on cognitive functioning by stimulating production and release of certain chemicals within both body and mind.
These brain-enhancing chemicals include catecholamines such as dopamine and norepinephrine; neurotrophic factors like brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF; cerebral blood flow. Studies have revealed that individuals who remain physically active throughout their lives possess higher levels of these proteins that aid communication between neurons to promote thinking processes.
Other evidence supports aerobic exercise’s positive influence on mental health by increasing hippocampal volume – an area involved in memory. A moderate-sized study followed 30 middle-aged adults with memory problems for one year of moderate aerobic training versus stretching alone, and found the aerobic-training group showed 47 percent better memory test performance, associated with increased blood flow to both anterior cingulate cortex and hippocampus regions of their brains.