Great Health Guide
EXERCISE FOR BEST BRAIN HEALTH
Exercise is the best activity to keep your brain in tiptop condition
IFbrain fog or memory lapses are getting you down, there’s one activity that can keep your brain in tip-top condition.
Exercise has provided a raft of evolutionary advantages to keep us safe, to help us find food and keep us healthy. We have always moved, but the pressures of modernday life and our increasingly sedentary lifestyle is making it harder to ensure we are active enough. The scary stats tell us over 70% of Australians are too sedentary or don’t meet the recommendation of 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week. Worse still our children score a D minus with over 80% not reaching recommended physical activity levels.
THE BRAINY BENEFITS OF EXERCISE.
The good news is that regular moderate intensity exercise boosts brain health, reduces brain fog, improves memory, slows down brain ageing and reduces your risk of cognitive decline or Alzheimer’s. This is a lifelong prescription. The full cognitive benefits take six to 12 months to develop after starting, but before you throw up your hands in horror, the positive mood enhancing benefits will start to be felt in the first week.
HOW DOES EXERCISE HELP OUR BRAIN?
The direct effect is via the increase in blood flow providing more oxygen and nutrients, while stimulating the release of growth factors including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is essential to neuronal repair and maintenance, while reducing insulin resistance and inflammation. Pounding the block is the way to start, so stamp your feet and let’s get moving. The indirect effect is that it improves sleep patterns and boosts the immune system while lowering stress, anxiety and depression.
The best exercise is always the exercise you do.
The magic lies in the combo of aerobic (huff n’ puff) 150 minutes per week plus two sessions of weights or resistance training. Just as different forms of meditation produce different effects on the brain, so do different forms of exercise. Aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume by up to 2%. This is the part of the brain linked to memory. It also increases the volume of the prefrontal and temporo-parietal cortex that is helpful for our executive thinking processes of logic, reasoning, planning and decision-making. While this may not sound much, it overcomes the age-related loss by the equivalent of 1-2 years. Resistance training such as weights increase the brains plasticity leading to increased grey matter in the posterior cingulate gyrus, associated with global cognitive benefit. The results of the SMART trial showed how cognition improved relative to greater muscle strength in a small group of subjects, aged 55 and older with mild cognitive impairment. Strong muscles mean stronger brains, so find those dumb bells now!
THE NEW EXERCISE PRESCRIPTION = MOVE MORE, SIT LESS.
If exercise isn’t your thing, I hear you. Many people hate the idea of going to the gym and all that hot, sweaty stuff. Fear not, as far as your brain goes, all physical activity counts. Choose to move in 10 to 30minute increments or splurge
Exercise is #1 activity to keep your brain in tiptop condition.
it all as a weekend warrior. Regardless of your current level of physical fitness even when starting from ground zero, it’s about choosing an activity you think you would enjoy and getting started. Often the maximal gains are experienced by those starting from the lowest baseline.
IT’S YOUR CHOICE!
Knowing exercise is essential to our wellbeing sadly doesn’t translate into doing it. Many of the obstacles commonly cited include: • feeling exhausted • overwhelmed with no time available • ashamed of being unfit • having a medical condition that makes exercise difficult • having a mental illness.
You can always find the justification NOT to exercise, but can you afford the future cognitive and health cost? Regardless of your starting point there is always an activity to try. It feels counterintuitive but getting out for a short walk when you’re tired, sad or down will boost your energy and mood. Focusing on something you know you can achieve, that will build confidence fast. It’s about making the choice and staying safe by starting low and building up gradually. If getting to the letterbox is your first goal – go for it! That 5-minute excursion gets easier with practice and then it’s easier to extend it by another 5 minutes. So, indulge in exercise, the number one activity to enjoy being a smarter, sharper thinker.
Dr Jenny Brockis
is a Medical Practitioner and Board-Certified Lifestyle Physician specialising in brain health and mental performance. Jenny’s approach to overcoming life’s challenges is based on practical neuroscience which enables people to understand their thoughts and actions leading to effective behavioural change. Jenny is the author of Smarter, Sharper Thinking (Wiley) and may be contacted via her website.