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
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
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
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
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