We know physical exercise is good for our bodies, but did you also know it is good for your brain? Your brain is a muscle, and like any other muscle, you either use it or lose it. While physical exercise helps your body, as little as 20 minutes also helps facilitate information processing and memory function. There are many other ways exercise helps the brain including:
It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It reduces insulin resistance, reduces inflammation, and stimulates the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells. It also aids the bodily release of a plethora of hormones, all of which participate in aiding and providing a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells.
Exercise stimulates the brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Recent research from UCLA demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain—making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.
From a behavioral perspective, the same antidepressant-like effects associated with “runner’s high” found in humans is associated with a drop in stress hormones. A study from Stockholm showed that the antidepressant effect of running was also associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and verbal memory.
Physical exercise can:
Combining physical exercise with brain training techniques offers the greatest impact on cognitive function. Meaning that exercises that increase your heart rate but also require you to integrate different parts of the brain such as coordination, rhythm, and strategy give the best results. Even adding an additional challenge during exercise, like using your non-dominant hand or foot, closing your eyes (when safe) or doing normal routines in a different order will help build those new neurological pathways!
Cross body exercises, or exercises where you cross the midline of your body help your right brain and left brain work together. This is most often seen developmentally in the areas of speech, language, handwriting, reading, tracking objects, math sequencing, sensory integration, body awareness and other important skills for critical thinking. Cross body exercises can be as simple as rotating an object around your head or body in a circular motion to touching opposite hand to foot in front of or behind your body.
Here are some fun brain exercises you can incorporate into your daily routine.
Research studies and References: