Most people consider joining a gym when they need to lose weight or get in better shape. But did you know that while you work the muscles on your body, you’re also working that muscle (yes it’s technically an organ) between your ears? That’s right, your brain! And more and more, research is pointing to evidence that the health benefits of exercise and regular physical activity can prevent mental deterioration, improve memory and cognitive skills, and elevate mood.
It’s not your imagination that you feel smarter after an intense cardio session. It’s your brain benefiting from those endorphins!
The Preventative Effect of Exercise on Mental Deterioration
Exercise not only has the potential to slow the onset of dementia, but it can also actually prevent it.
According to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, starting a regular workout regime early in life can “…modify the course of the disease”. Cardiovascular exercise, as well as weight training, are both shown to help reduce dementia. Taking a brisk walk will get your heart rate up and improve your cardiovascular system.
Alzheimer’s in the 6th leading cause of death in the United States affecting more than 5.5. Million people every year. The Alzheimer’s foundation found that “Between 2000 and 2015 deaths from heart disease have decreased by 11% while deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased by 123%”. It doesn’t have to be like this, in fact, this study published in the Journal of Neuroscience discovered that with just a short burst of exercise, the stress on amyloid connections found in the brain (the same connections that some believe may be at the root of cognitive decline) was reduced.
Considering that my family has a history of Alzheimer’s learning about this has been a bonus to my motivation to get out there and get my blood pumping. And also considering that there is still so much that is left to learn about cognitive decline, having something this tangible and manageable TO DO to prevent this from happening to me or to my family, is a happy bonus.
Improve Memory and Cognitive Function
Regular physical activity also helps to improve memory and cognitive skills. Taking a cardio exercise class at the gym such as a step, cycling or dance class has many benefits when it comes to improving your mental physique.
I don’t love all forms of working out! In fact, if you see me running, I suggest that you start running too because there is something scary behind me! I do love a good work out in my favorite modalities (strength training, dance, kickboxing, yoga, walking my dogs, and water aerobics).
My two qualifications for exercise/movement is that it needs to be interesting and challenging. . As someone who tends to live in her head, I love the moment when my brain shuts off and my body and mind work together to complete the exercise. So, I particularly love when my instructor constantly switches it up. Turns out this is also good for my brain! As a professional multi-tasker, what more could I ask for than an activity that works my mind and my body!
By attending exercise classes regularly, participants learn the routines, which increases memory function.
Additionally, most participants learn new movements, which help both memory and cognitive functionality. For even more of a brain boost, walk different paths or try new classes or find coaches that are constantly trying new music and switching up the order of the moves. Making friends and having a social engagement in class is also beneficial to your brain.
Socializing is a great way to keep your mind and your brain active. In other words, head to an exercise class and you’ll be knocking off multiple Alzheimer’s birds with one stone!
Health Benefits of Exercise on Your Mood
But the benefits of exercise go beyond simple prevention. In a Medical Expenditure Panel Survey conducted in 2013, one out of every six U.S. adults reported using some sort of psychiatric drug, including anti-depressants, anxiety medication, and antipsychotics. People are typically prescribed these types of drugs for various reasons, including depression, anxiety, ADD, bipolar disorder, and more.
The Dayton Daily News hails exercise as a powerful antidepressant that helps, “…normalize brain chemistry, restore mental and emotional balance, improve sleep quality and calm nerves”. Exercise is increasingly becoming the first line of defense in mental health, often before or in place of medication.
The evidence is almost overwhelming. If you’re looking to avoid mental deterioration, improve your memory and cognitive skills, or elevate your mood, exercise is a great first step.
And it doesn’t matter your current level. Everyone from the experienced athlete to the beginner can benefit. I personally love kickboxing, martial arts, and weight training, but that’s me! It’s important that you find a workout that you enjoy (yes, exercise can be enjoyable!) and that keeps you motivated. Find a fun workout that suits your current level of fitness and schedule and get moving! Just like your outward physique, your mental physique depends on you.
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