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Break a Sweat and Give Your Brain a Boost

February 16, 2021

Exercise is good for your heart, and it also can lower blood pressure, prevent diabetes and help you lose weight. But did you know it’s good for your brain, too? When you exercise, your cerebral blood flow increases and helps protect against age-related loss of grey matter. And because physical activity also lowers resting cortisol levels over time, you’re better able to manage stress and prevent cognitive decline — possibly lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The benefits of exercise don’t stop there: It also boosts attention, memory and comprehension, essentially improving the brain’s ability to learn. Research shows this occurs in several ways, including increased hippocampal volume, increased cortical thickness and improved neuroplasticity.

You can maximize these benefits by combining a fitness routine with appropriate fiber intake, which improves gut health. Remember, the gut is often referred to as the “second brain” and plays a major role in stress, inflammation, depression and anxiety.

Increase Your Blood Flow

There is no specific exercise that improves brain health. The key is just to get moving. But studies have found that compound movements -- such as squats and deadlifts -- involving larger muscle groups result in bigger increases in hormone release afterward. And using larger muscle groups will tax the cardiovascular system more as well, causing a higher increase in heart rate, respiration and cerebral blood flow. Some studies show that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can improve cerebral blood flow more than lower-intensity steady state cardio.

Exercise Reduces Depression and Anxiety

An overwhelming body of research shows exercise is one of the best antidotes to anxiety and depression. It increases the production of endorphins and leads to an increase in other feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine. Another theory suggests that an increase in the temperature of the brain stem from exercise leads to relaxation and less anxiety. And from a psychological standpoint, feeling confident that exercise helps also can ease depression. 

Another mechanism that helps the body handle stress is the production of heat shock proteins. These proteins, produced in response to heat stress and exercise, confer a robust stress-resiliency to cells, leading to the body’s improved ability to handle physiological stress.

Exercise Helps the Gut, Too

Regular exercise also can help improve the diversity and health of the bacteria in the intestines. This group of bacteria, known as the gut microbiome, plays a big role in our overall health and well-being, along with our brain health. Our intestines produce more than 90 percent of the serotonin in our bodies, so if we have an imbalanced or homogenous microbiome, our physical and mental health can suffer. Because the gut has its own nervous system, separate from the central nervous system, we’ve come to recognize the gut as our “second brain.” It’s important that we learn how to properly take care of both of our brains so they can better take care of us.

 

Learn More About the Services Offered at the National Training Center

The National Training Center, part of Orlando Health South Lake Hospital, is a state-of-the-art sports and fitness facility located in Clermont, Florida. The Fitness Center offers community fitness, sports and health memberships and programs for youth and adults.

 

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