Exercise is great for your muscles and cardiovascular system but I suspect most people don’t think of it as something that improves brain health. Exercise has been shown to improve the health and function of the brain in numerous studies and may also help lower the risk for diseases that affect the brain.
Can Immediately Improve Brain
Exercise can have some pretty immediate effects on brain function. A study done at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro was designed to see if aerobic exercise could have an impact on memory. What these researchers did was have 48 people listen to two paragraphs then had them recall what they heard as well as they could 35 minutes later.
Some of these test subjects did this test after exercising on a stationary bike for 30 minutes and some of them did it without having exercised. Researchers found that the group that exercised was able to remember significantly more than the group that did not exercise. These results suggest that exercise can quickly improve memory in the short term.
Reverses Aging of the Brain
As you get older there are certain parts of the brain that tend to shrink. One of these areas is called the hippocampus which is an area of the brain involved in memory. If your hippocampus shrinks it could affect your memory which is why researchers at the University of Pittsburgh did a study to see if exercise could reverse this.
Their study involved 120 older adults who served as test subjects. Some of these people followed an aerobic exercise program while the rest were put into a control group that did not exercise.
Researchers found that after 1 to 2 years the group that exercised had a 2% increase in the size of their hippocampus which reversed the effects aging caused. Exercise also led to improvements in their memory. On the other hand, the group that did not exercise actually had a decline in the size of their hippocampus. This study suggests exercise can change the structure of the brain in a very beneficial way.
Exercising Early In Life Helps
Researchers at the University of Florida wanted to see if exercising early in life had any effect on the risk for developing dementia later in life. They gathered information on hundreds of dementia patients and thousands of people who had not been diagnosed with dementia to determine whether or not exercise affected the risk for developing dementia.
- What they found was that light exercise such as gardening or walking lowered the risk for developing dementia by 37%.
- They also found that people who did more demanding exercise on a regular basis such as playing sports lowered their risk for developing dementia by as much as 66%.
- The risk of Alzheimer’s disease which is a common form of dementia was also lowered by exercise.
These studies strongly suggest exercising earlier in life can help prevent dementia.
Being Overweight May Hurt Your Brain
It is a well-known fact that exercise can help you lose excess body weight and this may be another way in which exercise can lower your risk for dementia. Researchers at Kaiser Permanente did a study to see if being overweight when you’re young could increase the risk of dementia later in life.
What they did was collect information on 6,583 people who had their waist sizes measured from 1964 to 1973. They then looked at medical data on these people that had been recorded 36 years later.
They found that 15.9% of them developed dementia and that the most overweight of them were almost 3 times as likely to develop dementia. These results suggest being overweight while you are young can increase your risk for dementia when you are older.
If you want to do all you can to improve the health of your brain you should be sure to exercise and keep your weight under control.