Cognitive benefits from exercise.
Article by Costas Michaelides, MD, Consultant Neurologist
The benefits of exercise both physical and mental have been proven in multiple studies over the years. There is no doubt that regular exercise can improve one’s well-being. It lowers the chance of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke. It reduces anxiety and the chance of developing depression. It also helps with insomnia. It makes one feel better about themselves and look better at the same time.
In a new study that was performed at the University of British Columbia researchers found that aerobic exercise, the kind of exercise that gets your heart pumping, can stimulate the increase in the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the area in the brain which is involved in memory and learning. On the other hand resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same effect.
Even though the study did not examine the impact of aerobic exercise on dementia it is important to note that dementia is associated with a decrease in the size of the hippocampus in late life. Dementia, which as we know is the disease of the brain which causes memory loss, is on the rise with one new case diagnosed every four seconds globally. It is estimated that by the year 2050 around 115 million people worldwide would have been diagnosed with dementia.
But how does exercise help the brain? It helps by reducing inflammation, by increasing blood flow, and by the release of those factors that are necessary for the creation of new blood vessels that take blood to key areas of the brain. It helps also with improving the survival of brain cells.
So it’s exciting to find out that if one engages in a program of regular aerobic exercise for six months to a year there is an associated increase in the volume of the specific brain areas involved with learning and memory.
How much exercise is required? In the above study participants were asked to walk briskly for an hour twice a week. Of course walking is not the only exercise that can achieve the above and other exercises such as other sports such swimming, cycling and running can also achieve the same results. The best method would be to enroll yourself in a class under expert supervision and monitor your progress over the months. Commit yourself and turn exercise into a habit to achieve the best results possible!
Costas Michaelides, MD