How Regular Exercise Supports Brain Health

A recent article in the Journal of Applied Physiology points out several interesting benefits to your brain from regular exercise, including both aerobic activity and strength training. The meta research article looked at over one hundred studies that measured various aspects of cognitive performance after cardio (aerobic) workouts and strength training.

This meta analysis highlighted several common threads from a cross section of individual studies:

    Sedentary, physically inactive patterns impair cognitive performance, for both children and adults. Conversely, regular exercise patterns tend to improve memory, attention, and decision-making skills.

Exercise encourages growth of new nerve cells and brain blood vessels, though increased production of neurotrophins such as BDNF and IGF-1, which promote the growth and repair of brain cells.

Physical exercise also has an almost immediate effect on human DNA, through a process called epigenetic modification (basically switching individual genes on & off). Physical exercise causes epigenetic modifications in muscle tissue, priming your muscles for use and future strengthening.

And this leads us to the brain health benefits of strength training (or weight training):

    Strength/weight training can promote better ability to stay on a task in the face of distractions.

This is especially true if the weight involved is large enough to cause injury if dropped, or when the exercise task is complex – letting distractions interfere reduces the effectiveness of the exercise set.

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An additional benefit of strength training is better coordination skills, which can help reduce the occurrence of severe falls (and accompanying brain injuries), especially in older adults.

So hit the gym, pool, bike path, etc. knowing you’re maintaining a healthy brain and a healthy heart!