There are many benefits to being physically fit. The ones we might think of first will include maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the odds of heart disease, stroke, depression and certain types of cancer. But recent research has also shown that exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and information processing.
In a study at the University of British Columbia, scientists discovered that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that keeps your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
It is known that the hippocampus begins to shrink as we age, usually around age 55 to 60. However, in this study, the brain scans of participants who spent a year of walking three times per week, showed evidence that their hippocampus had increased in size about 2% – a significant increase which reversed age-related loss by one to two years.
In addition, your increased heart rate allows more oxygen to reach blood cells which, in turn, stimulates the process of brain plasticity, the growth of neural networks in your brain. This helps overall brain function, including memory power and concentration.
Exercise is also known to release feel-good hormones in your brain. The fact that it encourages positive thoughts and a sense of feeling refreshed can help in enabling better focus and effective learning. Whether you exercise, like going for a brisk walk or doing a full gym work-out, a component called norepinephrine increases in the brain. This component has been shown to play a role in a person’s mood and ability to concentrate; it focuses attention and promotes the retrieval of memory.
The older we get our ability to memorise decreases, in the worst case cognitive decline can result in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Once again physical activity can help in combating both. Physical activity can also help your brain develop new cells.
So what can you do? If your not the gym type, don’t fret. As mentioned a brisk walk will suffice, or making small changes by using stairs instead of lifts, stretching or jogging on the spot (preferably better done if your not in a shared office.)
If you want to exercise more but don’t have the discipline to do it on your own, you could try one of these ideas.
– join a walking group or other type of aerobic class
– Walk or work out with a friend who’ll hold you accountable.
– Track your progress on a free, downloadable app that encourages you to reach a goal.
– If you’re able, hire a personal trainer.