The brain is one of the most powerful organs in the body. It interprets all the senses, stores all memory, and acts as the hub for neural transmitting. It is one of the hardest working organs and must be kept in right form.
How do we keep the brain healthy? There are suggestions for diets high in quality fats and anti-inflammatory foods. Doing puzzles and challenging games has also been recommended. One of the major methods to aid the brain, however, is through regular exercise. Regular physical activity has been found to help the brain repair itself and amplifies the power of brain cells leading to improved focus, memory, and mood.
Move to Improve:
Moderate intensity exercise revs the blood flow around the brain and provides an intense oxygen boost during the workout. That extra oxygen aids the production of chemicals and cells that are involved in memory, attention, and problem-solving processes. For example, a 2007 study examined the effect of sprinting on memorization. Those who completed two 3-minute sprints were able to memorize new words 20 percent faster than those in the control group. In other long-term studies, those who have consistently exercised outperformed the non-movers in tasks involving memory, reasoning, attention, problem solving, and basic intelligence.
Workouts do not have to be as intense as sprinting, however. Basic movements, such as walking, have proven to be valuable as they are not overly strenuous on the joints and muscles yet greatly increase blood circulation. This increased circulation speeds up the rate at which oxygen and glucose molecules reach the brain. The same can be said about swimming, another low-impact, high-movement exercise.
Increased movement also sparks neurogenesis, or the production of neurons. As these neurons are produced, the brain can heal and repair itself as well as increase in size. For example, a University of Pittsburg study found that the most aerobically fit had an average of 7 percent larger hippocampus than their inactive peers.
In a behavioral perspective, there are antidepressant-like effects associated with exercise. Often known as "runner's high," the extra release of endorphins during exercise is responsible for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many difficult workouts.
Endorphins are the body’s natural painkiller and mood-booster—the more, the better. Other beneficial psychological effects include the drop in stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which are responsible for feelings of anxiety. Even if exercise is done grudgingly, the same benefits of hormonal balance are still reached, according to a study at the University of Colorado Boulder.
A necessity in achieving these benefits, both with memory as well as mood-boosting hormones, is that continuity is key. Maintaining an exercise plan 3-5 days a week allows for the protective and mood-boosting agents in the brain to be used around the clock. Continuing that plan over a period of several months and into the years will reap the maximum benefits. Thus, an all-star athlete in high-school who discontinues all physical activity in his 30’s will not receive those same results. It must be a constant, renewed effort, and it is well worth it.