How exercise "builds" your brain or why you should teach old dogs new tricks !

Updated: Jan 10

Exercise affects the brain by:

  • Improving memory.

  • improving decision making.

  • Improving multi-tasking ability.

  • lengthens attention span.

  • builds and protects neurons.

Read on to find out more :

The old world view of the brain.

There was a time not so long ago that we thought that as we got past a certain age that the brain lost neurons as we got older and was not capable of making new ones. This was all seen as part of the inevitable slide as we got older.

However research done in the past couple of decades has shown that simple, good old fashioned exercise has an important role in the maintenance and production of neurons. Its a brain builder !

Its well established that physical exercise can improve the following;

  • muscle size and strength.

  • Aerobic fitness.

  • Heart health.

  • Bone density.

  • Tendon and ligament strength.

  • Cartilage and disc strength.

Now you can add your brain health to that as well and not just in the sense of a "runners high" or endorphin rush you get after a workout or a good walk. You can actually "build" your brain.

How does exercise affect the brain ?

It is not fully understood but may be related to the production of types of protein in the brain that help to promote the production of new neurons and protection of others.

In experiments in mice simple treadmill running has shown growth in the area related to memory , the hippocampus.

This graphic gives a great overview on some of the effects of exercise on the brain.

Researchers have shown that there have been improvements in various parts of the brain with aerobic exercise e.g

  • Hippocampus, the region responsible for memory.

  • Pre-frontal cortex, the region that helps us with multi-tasking, planning and decision making. Important in learning new skills.

  • Parietal lobe, the region that helps us be aware and move in our ever changing environment.

  • Cerebellum, better attention span.

Is going to the gym or going for a walk enough to build your brain ?

There is definitely a benefit from doing these activities, however there may be ways to further enhance the effect on the brain.

Researchers have shown that when introducing an element of puzzle solving into exercise has an even more positive effect on the brain as well.

This is one of those face palming moments for me, as this is what we do with children to help them learn. We combine exercise / physical activity / play with learning tasks.

remember the game mastermind ? check out this version:

It doesn't have to be complicated, but it has to challenge you and be fun.

Going for walks in new environments or trying new physical skills may be the easiest way to do it. I f your not scared of heights rock climbing involves physical exertion plus a lot of forward planning to get to the top.

My challenge recently was to learn how to skip like a boxer and now i can do that i want to add new tricks to it. Little did i know that as i was learning a new skill i may have been building my brain as well.

Maybe mix your exercise up with doing some sort of cognitive task in between rounds of lifting weights or cycling etc.

This could be a simple as doing 5 minutes stationary cycling and doing a Rubiks cube or sudoku puzzle.

Maybe listening to an audiobook or podcast while exercising may help the brain building component.

Next time tIme you go to the gym add some grey matter building into your routine.



ref :

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