The link between exercise, the brain and anti aging is a topic worth talking about in relation to women over 50. Exercise is the epicentre of all activity in the body and keeping it in shape as we get older is of vital importance. Well, I say in shape as if there were some way to physically train it, but it’s not far off from the truth.
While there is no treadmill equivalent for brain training, our brains respond to and are stimulated by the physical exertion of exercise. Walking, running, squatting, lifting all contribute to the ongoing development of the big pink mush in our heads that is keeping us going.
But how, and more importantly why, does this happen? And what specifically can physical exercise contribute to our brain function?
IMPROVED MENTAL STATE
There is a term you may be familiar with called the ‘runners high’. You may have even experienced it for yourself. While coined for runners, the term runner’s high is a catch all term for the elation felt after a workout, not specifically relating to the joy of running. A runner’s high is induced by the brains release of endorphins, which are our bodies natural coping mechanism for the stresses, both physical and mental, related to exercise. They help push us even further and encourage us to continue training by giving us a natural high as a reward for our efforts. Bottom line: If it feels good to exercise, we’ll continue to do so.
Endorphins have many benefits on our overall mental health including reduced depression and anxiety, a boost in self-esteem and lowered stress levels, all of which contribute to rapid ageing in the body. Exercise in any form is wildly beneficial for the body, then, for maintaining healthy endorphin levels to help us stave off negative states of mind.
INCREASED MENTAL CAPACITY
The brain is one of the most studied parts of the human anatomy for obvious reasons. Unlocking the mysterious of how we work is key to improving us as a species and advancing modern medicine. Luckily for us, we can use these learnings to help better prepare us for the ageing process.
One of the key findings on brain development in recent years has to do with how exercise plays a big part in strengthening the connections in our brain, particularly in the hippocampus. This is important to note as the hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory. As we age, our hippocampus shrinks, which can lead to an increased risk of dementia. Regular exercise helps keep the hippocampus strong, improving our spatial memory and keeping us sharp. Exercise can literally help you have a better memory!
Exercise has also been shown to improve our learning capacity by upping the production of brain cells and forming new synaptic connections.
IMPROVED COGNITIVE FUNCTION
While the root cause of cognitive dissonance (brain fog, lack of motivation, lathergy) isn’t exactly clear cut, it is usually spurred on by negative emotions or feelings such as stress, depression and fatigue. These causes can be remedied with the help of exercise, and while it may not entirely dissipate brain fog alone, it will go a long way to helping you recover faster. As I mentioned above, exercise helps build new synaptic links in the brain, improving brain function. This includes an increase in alertness and concentration. Anytime you feel the hazy waves of brain fog coming on, get up and move around. Go for a walk, do 10 squats, jump on the spot! It will all benefit in getting you back on track faster.
The brain is, in a lot of regards, a big mystery. But, with the advancements of modern science, we have been able to prove that exercise really is beneficial for maintaining a healthy mental state and keeping signs of an ageing brain at bay. Next time you feel sluggish or lacking in motivation, stand up, go for a walk, do some squats or jump up and down. It will do you and your brain the world of good.