Physical Activity and Fitness Improves Brain Health
By
M. Chris Wolf, PhD.

Physical activity and fitness benefits brain health.  But what happens when you stop exercising?

Numerous research studies have established the benefits of physical exercise and fitness to brain fitness and health.  Studies have demonstrated that exercise strengthens the structures of the brain.  We also know that the functions of the brain also improve.

Research has shown that even 30 minutes of a brisk walk 4 to 5 times per week can be of benefit to brain health and mood.  You can track your activity by using an Activity Monitor.

Lifesource Xl-18 Tri-axial Activity Monitor

The good news is that lower animal as well as human research has shown that moderate exercise stimulates neurogenesis or growth of brain cells.  New neurons in the brain are created in parts of the brain such as the hippocampus. The hippocampus is where new memories are formed and encoded. 

Another benefit of physical activity and fitness appears to be improved mood, memory and information processing speed.  Simply put, you just feel and function much better.

What happens when people stop exercising?

At the 2012 annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans two recent animals studies were reported that might provide some initial answers. 

Afterward, the researchers compared the animals’ performance on the memory test, as well as the number of new brain cells in the hippocampus of each group of rats.

They found that, after only a week of inactivity, the rats that had run were much faster on the water maze test than the  animals that did not exercise. They also had at least twice as many newborn neurons in the hippocampus.

·         A study involving rats reported by researchers from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil found that after only one week when exercise was discontinued were slower in a memory test and had half as many new neurons born in the hippocampus or the part of the brain involved with new memory encoding.

·         A second study reported by researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario found changes in mood associated with inactivity. They found that several months of exercise decreased the animals became anxiety and they were more resilient to stress during behavioral testing. BUT these benefits decreased quickly when they were removed from cages with running wheels and toys with which they had exercised.

This is not surprising when you think about what happens to the human body when we stop exercising. Our muscle tone, strength and efficiency decreases. Also our resting heart rate can increase or recover less well after physical activity. 

IMPORTANT:  The take away from these recent studies is that brain health is enhanced with physical exercise including a brisk walk for 30 minutes. Stick to the commitments that you have made to yourself to keep moving.  Your brain will thank you.

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