Five new reasons why exercise makes you sharper and smarter.
Blackmores asked Dr. Maarten Immink, Lecturer in Human Movement at the University of South Australia, what difference fitness can make to your grey matter. The science is fascinating!
1. It keeps you young
“Typically, muscle strength and bone density tend to decline as part of the ageing process. However, this rate of decline is always reduced in individuals who regularly participate in exercise and physical activity.”
2. It promotes blood flow to the brain
“Regular physical activity improves cardiovascular and respiratory function. This translates into lower blood pressure, lower resting heart rate (a sign of improved heart efficiency) and increased depth of breathing. Better blood flow in the body means increased delivery of critical nutrients to neural cells and improved removal of metabolic waste. In neuroscience we use changes in blood flow as an indicator of neural activity in the brain—in other words, blood flow and cognitive function are directly linked.”
3. It can help to improve your memory
“Exercise improves levels of substances that promote cell growth. Neural cells rely on growth hormones to maintain function and also to form branches that connect to other neural cells. One of these hormones, called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), has been demonstrated to increase its concentration as a result of exercise. Higher levels of BDNF are also associated with better learning and memory formation.”
4. It can help you sleep soundly
“A body of research called ‘sleep-dependent learning’ demonstrates that sleep—and in particular, certain phases of the sleep cycle—are critical for the formation of memory. A good way to promote sleep is to engage in regular physical activity. When we’re sleep deprived, usually the first processes to decline are not physical but rather cognitive (for example our ability to make decisions and pay attention suffers).”
5. It’s a stress-buster
“We need some stress for optimal cognitive function. However when demands are consistently beyond balance with our abilities, we become over-aroused, anxious and chronically stressed. This can possibly translate into loss of function or ‘dis-ease’ for neural cells. Furthermore, chronic stress and anxiety are risk factors for sleep deprivation. Exercise is a form of coping strategy that can be used to reduce the physiological and psychological consequences of stress and the experience of being overburdened.”
How to make exercise work for you
“Often, people view exercise as something uncomfortable that ‘has’ to be done. If your exercise is unpleasant then something is not right "in terms of" the type of activity or setting the intensity too high or being in the right environment.”
Seek help from a fitness professional to make exercise an enjoyable experience that is personally rewarding and makes you motivated to want to do it. Exercise should not be a dull, boring or painful experience, but rather an opportunity to enjoy the challenge and experience the body’s expression through movement. Experiment with various types of exercise to find the right fit for you.
Dr Maarten Immink is a Lecturer in Human Movement at the University of South Australia