Experts Say It Increases Memory, Boosts Mood

  • According to experts, exercise changes the brain in several beneficial ways.
  • It stimulates the part of the brain associated with memory, one expert told Insider.
  • Exercise also makes the brain more resilient against degeneration as we age.

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain.

Not only does your brain experience certain benefits immediately after exercising, but years of repeated exercise can permanently change your brain and improve your performance, says Wendy Suzuki, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University. Cognitive health. And Teresa Liu-Ambrose, who studies healthy ageing and cognition at the University of British Columbia, says that as long as you continue to exercise throughout your life, exercise makes the brain more resistant to degeneration with age.

They also told Insider that long-term exercise was associated with more efficient brain function, growth in the brain's memory centers, and faster connections in areas related to attention.

Exercise fills the brain with ‘feel-good' neurochemicals

Suzuki, author of Healthy Brain, Happy Life and Good Anxiety, says your brain releases neurochemicals like endorphins, serotonin and dopamine during and after exercise A “bubble bath” of substances, these chemicals reduce anxiety and make you feel good.

“Endorphins do seem to be related to that runner's excitement — that happy, exuberant feeling,” she said.

In addition to making you happy, Suzuki says dopamine also increases your focus immediately after you exercise, because the part of the brain associated with attention uses dopamine to do its job.

Exercise stimulates neuron growth

Suzuki said the researchers found that exercise stimulates the growth of new neurons in an area of ​​the brain primarily associated with memory, called the hippocampus. These new brain cells then integrate with the rest of the hippocampus, making the area physically larger and increasing your memory capabilities.

Exercise also affects the size of the prefrontal cortex, which sits behind the forehead, by increasing the thickness of a section of brain cells called axons, she said.

“Axons are covered with an insulating substance called myelin, which basically makes electrical activity through the neuron go as fast as possible,” Suzuki said. “The more myelin, the faster it runs. That's one of the things that differentiates humans from other animals that don't have our cognitive abilities. We have more myelin, which makes our connections work faster. By exercising, You can get more myelin.”

Exercise can keep your brain healthy as you age

The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are also prone to degeneration with age, Suzuki said. “So, over time, you lose both areas,” she said. “Exercise regularly — the more you exercise in your life — you're building a big, fat, puffy hippocampus, a big, puffy prefrontal cortex. And you're not curing dementia, nor There's no cure for aging, but you're making these two sensitive brain regions as powerful and powerful as possible. So aging actually takes longer to have an impact. “

Around age 50 to 60, the hippocampus shrinks by about 1 to 2 percent a year, and exercise has been shown to reduce the rate of this contraction, Liu-Ambrose said. Exercise also helps prevent the spread of cerebral small vessel disease, which causes mini-strokes throughout the brain and increases the risk of dementia.

Overall, exercise helps form new blood vessels, which can reduce the effects of stroke as you age, Suzuki said.

Finally, Liu Ambrose says exercise allows the brain to work more efficiently as you age. Older brains often need to recruit more brain regions for the same tasks, she said.

“After exercise, the brain becomes more efficient, so you can recruit fewer brain regions, but for better performance,” she said.

Changing Your Exercise May Be Better For Your Brain

Learning a new skill is often good for your brain, Suzuki says, so trying new exercises may give you more brain benefits. Doing a new exercise sets up new circuits in your motor cortex, she says.

“If you just do the same exercises over and over and it becomes more rote and doesn't challenge yourself in any new way, is it better to challenge yourself and try things harder? Yes, yes. It will It's always a good mix of engaging bigger or more people in different parts of your brain,” she says.

Adding new moves to weightlifting, cross-training, or taking a kickboxing or zumba class could be a fun way to do that, she says.

While aerobic cardiovascular exercise is the most studied, she says there is no “best” exercise for brain health. Your brain will benefit from any physical activity that gets your heart rate up.

“Every drop of sweat counts. The more you exercise, the more benefits you see,” Suzuki said.

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