Exercise and Brain Health

Exercise. A word that brings energy and joy to some, but can conjure negative feelings for others. I have a long, mostly loving relationship with exercise. However, it did take some time to figure out what was best for my lifestyle, and my body. For example, as much as I love the idea of going for long runs, I inevitably end up with injuries, and to be honest, get bored after a certain amount of time. By experimenting with various workouts and trying different sports, here is what I’ve learned: I love lifting weights far more than doing cardio. However, I am aware of the benefits of both, so for me, HIIT (high intensity interval training) or circuit training has proven the most motivating and fun. In the past, I was mostly motivated by how I looked as a result of exercising, and the feel-good effects were just a pleasant bonus. But, now, I am motivated by very different reasons. As I age, I am keenly aware that my muscle mass will diminish exponentially if I don’t maintain it, my brain health will falter if I don’t exercise to protect it, and my mental health noticeably deteriorates when I let weeks go by without activity.

Here are some key reasons, we all should find ways to incorporate movement, and strength building into our lifestyles:

1. Exercise has been proven to not only be beneficial for us in maintaining our physical health, but also our mental health. Evidence based research is making us aware of the neuroprotective nature of exercise.

2. After just a single session, the mood boosting effects are immediately apparent. The brain releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline during a workout which give us that “feel good” high afterwards.

3. The longer term effects are where it gets interesting. Exercise can actually change the brain’s anatomy and function. It causes cell regeneration in key parts of the brain that can continue to improve mood, focus, and attention. These changes can help protect the brain. Although it might not reduce our chances of developing Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative diseases altogether, it very well might slow the rate at which we develop symptoms, or decrease our risk.

So, get active. It doesn’t have to be a tough, soul crushing workout (unless that’s your thing). Just aim to get your heart rate up until you feel like you’re exerting yourself more than normal. Take an extra long, fast paced walk, or take the stairs whenever you can. Incorporate some light weights into your routine, as well, to maintain muscle mass and bone health. Thirty minute workouts, 3 to 4 times in a week and that’s enough!

You got this. Your heart, body and BRAIN will thank you for it.