The positive impact exercise has on our physical health is abundantly clear. From increased strength to better cardio-vascular performance, exercise (along with a good diet) is key to living a healthier life.
But the benefits of exercise extend beyond just physical health and fitness… in fact, recent studies are highlighting just how influential exercise be on our mental and brain health too.
This means if you’re looking to boost your brain health, exercise is going to be something you need to consider.
Whether you go to the gym, run in the park, or play sports, there are lots of ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.
In this handy guide, we outline everything you need to know about the relationship between exercise and brain health, and ultimately, how you can start benefiting from exercise.
How Does Exercise Impact Our Brain?
In terms of how exercise impacts our brain, it’s largely to do with better flow of oxygenated blood to the brain cells. When we exercise, it increases our heart rate, which means more oxygen is pumped around our body, including the brain. This increased blood flow to the brain helps deliver essential nutrients and proteins to the brain, aiding better development and recovery.
Although the brain doesn’t behave like a muscle in terms of exercise, the impact is very similar. The more exercise and physical activity you do, the more benefits your brain is getting.
5 Brain Benefits of Exercise
In terms of specific benefits, we’ve listed our top 5 below.
#1 Better Focus
Exercise is proven to help boost focus and concentration. If you find yourself sat at a desk all day and discover that your productivity dwindles, taking a break to go for a walk or run, is a simple but effective way to regather your thoughts and improve your focus.
Improved focus leads to all kinds of other benefits too, namely improved performance at school or in a job.
#2 Combat Depression
Exercise releases endorphins and other feel-good hormones. Phrases like a “runner’s high” stem from this association that exercise makes people feel better.
Especially in winter, getting your daily dose of exercise can help avoid experiencing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and seasonal affective disorder).
Similarly, exercise in nature (sometimes referred to as “green exercise”) is associated with even more mental health benefits. As a result, if you can go for a run in your local park, instead of in the gym, you’d benefit even more!
Similarly, exercise in or on water (sometimes referred to as the “blue gym”), is also thought to offer more benefits too. Wild swimming, for example, has a strong following of those who praise it for helping improve their mental state.
Our recent blog highlights the benefits of yoga on mental health too.
Without going into science, neuroplasticity is a fancy term used to describe the “flexibility” of your brain, a description of how well it can learn and absorb information.
Exercise is considered to help support this ability to keep the brain flexible. This is likely due to the additional blood flow to the brain.
The result is that you may find it easier to learn and remember things… which is quite a remarkable benefit indeed.
#4 Avoid Dementia
Although the cause of dementia is still unclear and genetics may ultimately impact whether you develop the disease or not, exercise may help reduce the risk of developing it.
Indirect correlations, such as diabetes can influence getting dementia, but as previously discussed, with more blood flowing to the brain, exercise may simply help aid recovery and overall brain tissue health, as well as reducing the risk of getting conditions like diabetes that have a link to the disease.
#5 Improve Sleep
Sleep is a chance for our brains to rest, recharge and recover, so if you want a healthy brain, you need to start prioritizing it.
Exercise helps to improve sleep patterns and help you reach that “deep” sleep faster.
And when you sleep better, you’ll notice the positive cycle that this has on other areas of your life, such as concentration and energy.
Best Exercises for Brain Health
At this point, you may be wondering what the best exercises are for brain health. The truth is any kind of exercise is going to be better than none. The research is still lacking in terms of daily recommendations for brain health. It’s an area that is likely to gain increasing attention and hopefully, more insights will be revealed.
For now, including both cardio workouts and resistance training is worthwhile and recommended for overall health and wellbeing.
Fitness Drum has free fitness challenges that include all sorts of movements and exercises that you can follow along to make sure you are getting enough exercise and physical activity during each month. This can be a simple but effective way to boost your daily movement and avoid long periods of inactivity (which is bad for both your physical and mental health).
As well as fitness challenges, you can follow a basic at-home workout routine or participate in local sports.
Learn More About the Impact of Exercise on Brain Health
Age UK has a useful resource on the topic of brain health, and its website includes tips for maximizing the impact of exercise on our health.
Little things like trying to be active throughout the day (i.e. instead of just going for a run and then being sedentary) help to offer insights into how you can structure your day to gain the most benefits for your health.
If you’re looking for more help on improving your mental health, read our blog on the benefits of mindfulness for mental health to help you get started.
No matter your age, it’s never too late to start benefitting from exercise. Even just a bit of extra movement in the day to start with can begin the positive cycle. Trying to walk that little bit faster for a short duration could be enough to get the heart pumping and blood flowing. Give it a go and see how you get on.
Robert Turp writes about early-stage health and fitness start-ups and helps share their story to improve the lives of those looking to get healthier and fitter.