Boost your brain with exercise
WANT TO TRAIN your brain?
Start training your body.
Exercise has benefits far and wide - from reducing the risk of major diseases such as cancer and diabetes, to boosting your immune system and giving your skin a healthy glow... but it is also known to boost your brain.
Exercise, specifically aerobic exercise (the kind that gets your heart pumping and sweat dripping), can actually boost the number of cells in your brain. Though neurones (brain cells) do not usually regenerate in the same way that our skin or hair cells do, studies have shown that regular exercise releases growth factors that can actually stimulate the birth of new neurones and lead to an increase in brain volume (1,2).
In particular, exercise can increase the volume of the hippocampus, a part of the brain which is responsible for the conversion of short term memory into long term storage. It is also the area that is most vulnerable to cell loss and degeneration in diseases like Alzheimer’s. Luckily, using exercise to boost brain cells is even more effective in older age. Studies have shown that, among healthy individuals aged 59 to 81, higher levels of physical activity were associated with a bigger hippocampus, and therefore better memory and cognitive tasks such as planning, scheduling and working memory (3,4).
With the risk of diseases such as dementia becoming more and more prevalent, many of us are concerned with keeping our brains in top condition and fighting off the cognitive decline that comes with age. Long-term studies have found that older individuals with a sedentary lifestyle have a higher risk of developing dementia later in life, but that those with a high level of physical activity are somewhat protected (5). Furthermore, when older individuals who suffered from memory problems took part in 6 month study of moderate-intensity exercise, their score on the Alzheimer Disease Assessment Scale–Cognitive Subscale improved after 12 months, whereas those who continued with their sedentary routines did not (6).
We all know and love the endorphin buzz after a workout, but did you know that exercise also has a long-term effect on our mood? Our mental health is as important as our physical health, and exercise has been shown to have a positive effect when used alongside traditional treatments to treat anxiety and depression. Some studies have found that regular exercise, and especially enjoyable exercise, can alleviate symptoms of both depression and anxiety in sufferers, and in some cases has an effect comparable to medication (7).
Whilst the mechanisms by which exercise can boost and stabilise our mood are still not fully understood, there is evidence that exercise is associated with the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin (which gives us feelings of well-being and happiness), and growth factors such as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is involved in the generation of new neurones in our all-important hippocampus) (8).
So, how much exercise do we need to do to boost our brain power? It depends on your age and your
physical ability, but researchers compared multiple studies that link exercise and brain function and found that people who exercised three times a week, for one hour each time, showed the biggest improvement in cognitive function (9). And we know many of you are hitting that target at BECYCLE already!
Whilst raising your heart rate and getting your sweat on is associated with boosting those brain cells, let’s not forget to complement the aerobic exercise with some peace of mind. Yoga and meditation also have great benefits for the brain and are associated with endorphin release, increased blood flow to the brain and improved mood and cognitive function (10). So whichever BECYCLE class you're booking into, you can be sure to be working your body and your brain!
Article written by Joanne Falck