The benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are hard to ignore. Not only is a daily workout routine key to preventing heart disease, stroke and diabetes, it also helps build resistance from disease and assist in lowering blood pressure and preventing depression. What many do not know, however, is that exercise is just as good for the brain as it is for the different organs in our body.
There are two types of exercise, and both are very important for your brain health:
- Physical exercise – Involves getting your heart rate up and building muscle mass in your body
- Mental exercise – Activities that sharpen your cognitive abilities and improve your memory
Physical fitness and the brain
Working out triggers the body’s ability to lower insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells and the growth of new blood vessels in the brain. Simply put, the more you engage the different muscles in your body, the more you help your brain to function properly to its optimum. Add to the that the fact that physical activity increases the flow of oxygen to your brain and increases the production of feel-good hormones in the brain, it’s definitely no surprise that people who are in good physical shape also tend to enjoy a higher level of mental agility.
Physical activity is therefore not only essential in keeping you fit and in good shape, it also offers great mental benefits, as well.
Ways your brain benefits from physical exercise:
- Exercise improves your brain’s executive function, encompassing your cognitive ability to focus on complex tasks, organize, think abstractly, and plan for future events.
- Exercise lowers your cortisol levels, which is linked to anxiety and stress. It is also believed to help generate new nerve cells in the area of the brain linked to the creation of new memories.
- Exercise boosts the levels of the feel-good chemicals in the brain called endorphins. It also enables the body’s production of serotonin and dopamine, which are responsible for the feelings of happiness and pleasurable.
- Exercise enhances the brain’s ability to process information, therefore enhancing concentration and improving decision-making.
Tips to stay physically fit:
- If you are finding it hard to motivate yourself to put on your running shoes and go to the gym, enroll yourself in a fitness class such as cycling or pole dancing. When a physical activity is fun, you’re more likely to make a habit out of it because it doesn’t feel like exercise.
- Get a workout buddy. Not only does this make exercising more fun, it also keeps you accountable.
- Make sure to set fitness goals, so you don’t feel like you are working out in vain. You can use a free app called MyFitnessPal, which helps you keep track of your progress and even plots your weight on a graph.
- Instead of riding the bus to work, why not bike or walk? It won’t feel like a tedious exercise, plus it’s a great way to hit the target of 10,000 steps per day! Remember that the main goal of exercising isn’t to run 10 miles a day or lift heavy weights; it’s just to get your heart rate up and engage in any kind of physical movement.
- As working out isn’t always fun while you’re doing it, the best way to motivate yourself is to focus on how great you’ll feel after. You can even give yourself a reward after every single time you work out, in order to reinforce the habit further.
Mental fitness and the brain
The importance of physical fitness cannot be ignored, and for good reason. A healthy body helps in preventing conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as promotes an overall sense of wellbeing. Yet, mental fitness is just as important as physical health and shouldn’t be neglected. Incorporating meditation and mental dexterity exercises into your daily routine can help you reap the benefits of a sharper mind and a healthier body for years to come. Not only does mental fitness help improve memory and concentration, it also improves your outlook in life and prevents symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Tips to stay mentally fit:
- Avoid multitasking. Instead of burdening yourself to get many things done at once, focusing on one task at a time will greatly help improve your concentration and make you feel more productive.
- Practice positive affirmation and make it a habit to be grateful. Not only does it help bring your self-confidence, wellbeing, and satisfaction to a higher level, it also allows you to put things in perspective and remain calm in difficult situations.
- Play brain games such as crossword puzzles and Sudoku. They allow you to use your logic reasoning and help keep your mind sharp.
- Reading is a wonderful activity that keeps the brain active. On top of stroking the imagination and testing your vocabulary, it helps boost creativity too.
- Force yourself to try new things. Trying new cuisines, traveling to new places and exploring different ways of doing routine tasks greatly improve your memory and expand your horizons. Even taking a new way to work improves your brain.
- Make meditation a habit. Start by finding a quiet corner in your home, and sit there with your back straight for at least 10 minutes every day. Not only does this help clear out your thoughts, it also creates a sense of peace and calm.
Since the birth of new brain cells significantly slows down as we grow older, keeping your body physically active and your mind mentally active helps in reversing the trend and slowing down the decline. It is best to engage in fitness exercises while you are young, instead of waiting for telltale signs of memory loss and mild cognitive impairment to show up. The reason is simple: Prevention is always better than cure.