The Positive Effects of Exercise on the Brain

Most of us are aware that aerobic exercise can help with depression, but further research suggests that exercise can also improve the cognitive functioning of people with depression. Improvements occur in the frontal and pre-frontal areas of the brain particularly in the executive functions of memory including planning, organisation and multi-tasking. It is thought that aerobic exercise could counteract cognitive degeneration associated with ageing as well as serving as a mood booster. This could be because exercise improves the hearts capacity to pump oxygen rich blood to the brain, so if you exercise your body you exercise your brain.

It is also important to recognise the difference between moderate and intensive exercise and its effects on the brain. Moderate physical activity undertaken in middle age or even later has been shown to reduce the risk of becoming mildly cognitively impaired which is a common problem of ageing. Mild cognitive impairment is defined as the interim period between normal thinking, learning and memory and dementia. Some degeneration in our brain power is normal as we age, but 10-15% of adults with mild cognitive impairment will dement whereas only 1-2% of the general population will. The good news is that a six month intensive exercise program could weaken the effects of cognitive impairment and even reverse this aspect of the ageing process.

Interestingly, when studied in the past, the effects of high-intensity aerobic exercise seemed to be more noticeable in women than in men despite similar levels of fitness. This was thought to be to do with how exercise effects metabolism particularly in relation to the production of insulin, glucose and the stress hormone, cortisol. However, a study at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine showed that both men and women benefited similarly to moderate exercise. The researchers found that almost any amount of moderate physical exercise in middle age or by older adults reduced the development of mild cognitive impairment by 30-40%. You are never too old to benefit both physically and mentally from exercising.

A study published in another medical Journal earlier this year highlighted the exciting news that you are also never too young to exercise in order to improve cognitive functioning. The Georgia Health Sciences University investigated the effects of 20 and 40 minutes of aerobic exercise on a group of children aged between 7 and 11. Students who exercised had higher scores in goal orientated tasks and those who undertook 40 minutes of exercise a day increased their IQ by 3.8 points in just 3 months.

Research such as this emphasises the importance of physical education in schools, but as parents we can encourage our children to exercise by being a positive role model when it comes to exercise. Why not consider finding an activity that you can do with them like going on bikes or swimming. You could also get older family members involved. Aerobic exercise is a cost effective way of preventing cognitive impairment and dementia as well as improving feelings of well-being and of course increasing levels of physical fitness. It comes to When exercise : many people do not know where to start so the services of a personal trainer Could help. They can design training programs that are appropriate for all ages and intensity levels so that people of various ages with differing levels of fitness can training together at the same time.