The brain has similar needs to other organs. It needs glucose, oxygen and other nutrients. There are very real concrete benefits to exercising that directly affect the brain.
“I like to say that exercise is like taking a little Prozac or a little Ritalin at just the right moment,” says John J. Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of A User’s Guide to the Brain.
“Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being” according to WebMD.
The benefits of exercise on the brain include the following:
– One of the most exciting changes that exercise causes is neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons. The new neurons are created in the hippocampus, the center of learning and memory in the brain, according to Oregon Health and Science University.
The course I am taking on Optimizing Brain Fitness
cites the following benefits:
– increased blood flow, oxygen and increased capillaries around neurons
– increased production of new neurons and more interconnections between them.
– protection of dopamine neurons from toxins in the environment
– leads to elevations in nerve growth factors.
– affects prefrontal executive processes, preferentially enhanced.
– brings about a positive balance in neurotransmitters just like in anti-depressants.
The Franklin Institute says that walking is especially good, because it increases blood circulation and the oxygen and glucose that reach your brain. Walking is not strenuous, so your leg muscles don’t take up extra oxygen and glucose like they do during other forms of exercise. As you walk, you effectively oxygenate your brain. Maybe this is why walking can “clear your head” and help you to think better.
Studies of senior citizens who walk regularly showed significant improvement in memory skills compared to sedentary elderly people. Walking also improved their learning ability, concentration, and abstract reasoning. Stroke risk was cut by 57% in people who walked as little as 20 minutes a day.
The Brain Optimizing course said that three walks of 45 minutes a week are enough to reduce chances of dementia by 50%.
An article in American Academy of Neurology Magazine stated that walking six to nine miles a week may preserve brain size and consequently stop memory deterioration in later life.
A study reported by The Franklin Institute said that in a four month trial the cognitive abilities of the participants were measured in four areas, memory, executive functioning, attention/concentration and psychomotor speed.
This group was compared with a group on medication. Compared to the medication group, the exercisers showed significant improvements in the higher mental processes of memory and in “executive functions” that involve planning, organization, and the ability to mentally juggle different intellectual tasks at the same time.
“What we found so fascinating was that exercise had its beneficial effect in specific areas of cognitive function that are rooted in the frontal and prefrontal regions of the brain,” said a researcher. “The implications are that exercise might be able to offset some of the mental declines that we often associate with the aging process.” (Emphasis mine.)
A short time frame is all that is needed to establish improvement
– just 6 months of exercise increases brain volume
– thus a decreasing brain volume with aging is really not normal, according to the Brain Optimizing course.