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BRAIN POWER

Impact of Exercise

 

Exercise & Brain Power

A recent review of the last 40 years of research offers evidence that physical exercise can have a positive influence on cognitive brain functions in older animal and human subjects confirming widely accepted findings that exercise has a beneficial impact on mental health.

Benefits have been demonstrated in:

  • Improved Cognitive Function
  • Maintaining brain plasticity
  • Increased vascularity
  • Faster recovery from spinal chord injuries
  • Reduced tendency to depression
  • Reduced symptoms of depression
  • Reduced likelihood of developing Alzheimers
  • Reversed use to improve Muscle Strength
  • Endurance Exercise


Exercise and Cognitive Function

Physical and aerobic exercise training can lower the risk for developing some undesirable age-related changes in cognitive and brain functions.

US researchers found evidence of a significant relationship between physical activity and later cognitive function. They concluded that exercise slows the effects of aging and prolongs cognitive capacity well into older age, as well as decreasing the incidence of dementia. Physical exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, can improve performance on a variety of cognitive and skilled performance tasks.

 

Exercise and Brain Plasticity

Exercise also helps the brain maintain its plasticity. Brain plasticity, the ability of the brain to reorganize itself in response to sensory stimulation, may not be restricted to nerve cells and their synapses. Other elements of brain tissue, including its capillaries, may be involved as well.

 

Increases Vascularity in the Brain

Physical exercise is good for the brain not just because of its effect on peripheral tissues, such as the heart and major body arteries, but also because of its direct effects on brain vasculature.

Exercise enhances vascularity in areas of the brain associated with motor control. Whilst some minimum level of physical activity is important for keeping the brain functioning at normal levels; 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (walking, treadmill, or cycling) most days of the week had a marked effect on reducing symptoms.

Regular aerobic exercise increases the number of capillaries in the motor cortex, a small area on the outer part of the brain that controls voluntary muscle movements.

A study of the association between exercise and brain function in people ages 62 to 70 found that "those who continued to work and retirees who exercised showed sustained levels of cerebral blood flow and superior performance on general measures of cognition as compared to the group of inactive retirees."

Further study is required to determine whether the blood supply to regions of the brain involved in cognitive performance is altered by exercise.

 

Exercise and Depression

Exercise may help protect the elderly from depression; not only by increasing blood flow to the brain, but by directly affecting the cells of the nervous system.

Aerobically trained older adults show increased neural activities in certain parts of the brain that involved attention and reduced activity in other parts of the brain that are sensitive to behavioral conflict.

Physical exercise induces a particular brain chemical, a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in an area of the brain, the hippocampus, that is involved in learning and memory. BDNF is known to have antidepressant-like properties, and has been found in lower levels in the blood of people with major depression.

Induction of BDNF rose significantly in test studies after only one week of exercise. This means that individuals who are physically active may be able to protect themselves from depression; be less depressed or relieved from depression.

Further, adding exercise to antidepressant medications significantly reduces depressive symptoms in patients with major depressive disorders. Antidepressant medication can leave residual symptoms of depression, such as insomnia, lack of concentration, irritability, sleep problems, lack of motivation, and sadness. Many of these residual symptoms have adverse effects on the patient's quality of life, and also increase the likelihood of a new full-blown depressive episode."

Another study that compared older adults who walked and those who did stretching and toning found that those who walked were better able to ignore bothersome distractions.

 

Exercise and Alzheimers

Some studies that included men and women over age 65 found that those who exercised three times a week for at least 15 to 30 minutes a session were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease; even if they were genetically predisposed to the condition.

 

Enhancing Exercise with Mental Effort

In an interesting reverse twist, studies have proven that putting some mental effort into exercising enhances muscles strength. Low-intensity physical exercise does not alone produce sizable strength gains in healthy elderly individuals. By mentally urging muscles to contract strongly while doing low-intensity (30% of maximum level) exercise you can increase muscle growth results by about 15 percent.

Exercise done both before and after a spinal cord injury can significantly improve recovery of locomotor function. Exercise may change cellular function in a part of the spinal cord not injured.

 

Endurance Exercise and Endorphins

Endorphins and enkephalins are chemical painkillers produced naturally in the body at times of physical stress. They are polypeptides, able to bind to the neuro-receptors in the brain to give relief from pain. This effect is commonly known as ‘runner's high’. They also kick in to provide temporary loss of pain when severe injury occurs, and analgesic effects that acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments of the spine offer.

The post-exercise surge in endorphins is why many exercisers seem to become addicted to their sport. They come to rely on their ‘fix’ to mask the pain of life events.

No increase of endorphins has been evidenced in weight training.

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