You’ve probably seen all those new apps that claim to help you boost your brain power with mind exercises. But you don’t need to download new technology or complete a crazy crossword puzzle to keep your mind healthy.
In fact, the best exercise for brain power is free!
Yep, it’s good old fashioned, real, exercise.
Exercise is one of my five Vital Foods. (As a quick refresher, Vital Foods are the foods that really feed your body and soul. The others include your relationships, your work life, your self-care practices and your spirituality.)
There are obvious benefits to maintaining a regular exercise regime for your physical body. But the ways that physical movement affects your mental health is also super important. There is a huge correlation between physical activity and our brain function.
Good Working Environment
Last month, we discussed how having plants in the office can boost your happiness and productivity at work. And inside your brain, the same can be said about exercise! The more you move, the better the work environment for your brain cells.
As you increase your heart rate with aerobic exercise (aka cardio), your blood pumps more oxygen to your brain. This triggers neurogenesis — or the creation of new brain cells, as well as the production of neurotrophins. This protein protects and keeps your neurons healthy.
Exercise also boosts brain power by reducing insulin resistance and inflammation, keeping everything in your brain and body running smoothly.
So shakin’ your bootie on the regular is essential to giving your brain the fuel it needs to stay in shape too.
If you’re struggling with brain fog, a little workout could be just the solution. Those neurotrophins we just discussed also increase brain plasticity, which is how well your brain cells can make new connections and adapt to change.
Aerobic exercise is also shown to boost the size of the hippocampus, which is the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. In fact, people who regularly work up a sweat have been shown to have larger, more dense prefrontal and medial temporal cortices (the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory) than people who don’t.
While it’s important to note that according to researchers at the University of British Columbia, “resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results”, there is good news!
You can see brain changes as quickly as 6-12 months with regular moderate exercise. Plus, one study showed that regular exercise could “delay their dementia onset by up to 15 years”, which is incredible!
So, not only will you feel refreshed after a brief workout, you’ll also be better able to tackle whatever the day throws your way.
Not only does regular exercise boost our brain power directly, but it also helps us in indirect ways too.
Increased movement leads to the release of serotonin in your brain (i.e. that coveted runner’s high). Serotonin is a chemical that works as a neurotransmitter, so you could call it your brain’s mail-carrier, taking messages from your brain to the rest of your bod.
It’s a multi-tasker, regulating your mood, your appetite and your sleep / wake cycle. So you sleep better, have better energy, feel less lethargic and more physically strong. Not to mention you’re a nicer, happier person to be around. ????
How Much Is Enough?
Obviously, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all workout for every body, but here are a few guidelines.
For maximum cognitive health benefits, focus on balance, flexibility, and aerobic fitness. So that could mean you find one type of exercise that encompasses them all, or switch it up throughout the week to keep a balance of each component.
According to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota, “people who exercised for at least 150 minutes per week had better cognitive outcomes compared to those who did not.” That may sound like a lot of time, but a brisk 1 hour walk outside, twice a week is already 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise. Add in a 30 minute yoga class, a bike ride or a swim, and you’re in the green, girl.
At the end of the day, any exercise is better for your brain than none at all.
How often are you exercising each week? Have you seen the brain boosting benefits of a good workout? Let me know about your experience in The Badass Beauty Club on Facebook!
LOVE + mental pushups!