“Physical activity is crucial to mind and body alike,” according to neuroscientist Lise Eliot. In her book, “Pink Brain, Blue Brain” she notes that the brain benefits as much as the heart and other muscles from physical activity.
Scientific studies have proven that exercise can help improve cognition in ways that differ from mental brain-training games. Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois maintains that “…exercise has broad benefits on cognition, particularly executive functioning, including improvements in attention, working memory and the ability to multitask.”
In the mid ‘90s it was shown that exercise triggers the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones. With age, BDNF levels fall which is one reason our brain functions may begin to deteriorate. However, exercise, especially aerobic, have been found to counteract these drops in BDNF and restore young levels even in the aging brain. “BDNF is in a sense like a brain fertilizer, says Carl Cotman, founding director of the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders. “It actually protects neurons from injury and facilitates learning and synaptic plasticity.”
Over the past two decades we’ve learned that exercise acts on multiple levels in the brain, and the wiring depends on the connections or synapses between neurons. As we age, these synapses are lost or broken, but exercise has been found to increase their numbers and stimulate the creation of more neurons. Exercise also improves blood flow to the brain thus carrying oxygen and feeding those neural tissues and, as a result, it enhances cognitive abilities.
To sum up all of this scientific research, when we move, our brain rewards us with better immediate memory, reduction in amyloid plaque (which is a common factor in Alzheimer’s Disease), better brain glucose metabolism and higher attention levels.
So, let’s get moving and feed our muscles and our brains!
Susan S. Covey is the Director of Fitness at Acts Bayleigh Chase in Easton.