Exercise and the Human BrainBarraq Ali
In recent years, neuroscience has produced evidence that regular exercise has an immediate and positive benefit for one’s brain including one’s mood and focus. Furthermore, it has shown that this beneficial effect lasts a long time and it slows down the onslaught of different conditions such as depression, Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, has positive effects on brain function on multiple fronts ranging from the molecular to the behavioral level. A study carried out by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia shows that even a brief exercise session of 20 minutes can improve information processing and memory functions.
When you exercise you increase your heart rate which pumps more oxygen into your brain. At the same time, the body starts producing a plethora of hormones that contribute and assist in creating a nourishing environment for the growth of new brain cells.
Another advantage of regular exercise is the stimulation of the growth of new connections between cells in a wide selection of important cortical areas of the brain. According to recent research from ULCA, exercise increases the growth factors in the brain which makes it easier for this amazing organ to grow new neuronal connections.
The part of the brain that benefit from aerobic exercise is the hippocampus. Since the hippocampus is the core of the brain’s memory and learning system, an increased level of fitness as a result of regular cardiovascular exercise contributes significantly to boosting one’s memory. An immediate impact of exercise is memory formation. German researchers have found that walking or cycling during learning helped new foreign language vocabulary to stick in the learner’s mind. However, workouts that are too hard could raise one’s stress level and which adversely affects the work of one’s memory.
Evidence obtained from tests carried out on school children has shown that exercise helps improve concentration. However, the benefits are not limited to children, exercise helps improve concentration in adults, too. Interspersing lesson with 20-minute session of aerobic style exercise improved the attention span of Dutch children, while a large randomized controlled trial in the US showed improvement in the children’s executive control. They improved their ability to ignore distraction, carry out multi tasks, hold and manipulate information in their minds.
What about mental health? Regular exercise has shown to improve one’s mood and fight depression. In fact, the effect of exercise in alleviating depression is as good as that of psychiatric treatment and antidepressants. However, this is an area that needs further rigorous investigation.
Throughout the ages many creative minds have pointed out that walking fired their imagination. Stanford University researches put that statement to the test and showed that walking on a treadmill or around a leafy campus like Stanford’s stimulated divergent thinking: the free-roaming, idea-generating component of creative thought.
Finally, the dreaded cognitive deterioration in old age is shown to slow down in those who engage in regular exercise. Research into this area has demonstrated the link between aerobic fitness and cognitive preservation. Three times a week sessions of aerobic exercise, brisk walking, weightlifting and dancing can improve balance, coordination, agility and overall old people’s cognitive well-being.
Fujairah Men’s College
07 March 2018