Everyone knows that exercise benefits the body, but you may need to learn that it’s also great for the brain. Scientific research has demonstrated that regular physical activity can safeguard the brain against age-related deterioration and enhance cognitive abilities in older adults.
It may reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (1), boost mood, increase energy levels, and improve focus and concentration (2). Thus, exercise should be at the top of your list if you’re searching for ways to maintain a healthy brain.
If you’re wondering which exercise is best for brain health, it ultimately depends on your goals. However, if you want to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia, doing aerobic exercises, such as walking, biking, or swimming, can be highly beneficial (3).
Scientific studies have shown that physical activity can even slow the progression of these degenerative diseases (4). One of the reasons for this is that exercise can lower blood pressure (5), which can cause damage to the brain when it’s high (6).
Exercise also helps increase blood flow to the brain by pumping blood around your arteries, providing plenty of oxygen and nutrients (7).
Yoga might be a good alternative to physical activity if you prefer something other than running, swimming, or cycling. It offers stress relief and flexibility and can even improve brain health. The calming effects of yoga are great for mental well-being. (8).
When practicing yoga, focusing on executing the moves and poses slowly and with control is important. Yoga involves mastering a unique breathing technique called pranayama that can benefit brain health (8).
Scientific research has extensively documented the brain-boosting advantages of yoga, which can be felt almost immediately.
Regular yoga practice over a few weeks can enhance overall well-being, improve your quality of life, and reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress (9). Yoga is helpful for individuals suffering from conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. A small study discovered that individuals with Alzheimer’s who practiced Kundalini yoga for eight weeks experienced significant improvements in cognitive function, mood, and sleep quality (10).
When looking for a way to boost your brainpower, consider trying yoga. With its combination of deep breathing, physical activity, and mental focus, yoga is an ideal tool for improving cognitive function. Not to mention, it’s a great way to de-stress and unwinds after a long day.
Yoga’s brain-boosting effects can benefit anyone, not just those with chronic conditions. It helps improve focus and concentration, making it useful for stressed-out college students and busy professionals (11). You can train your brain to concentrate and stay focused through yoga poses and controlled breathing.
Try yoga if you’re looking for a way to enhance your cognitive function. It combines physical activity, deep breathing, and mental focus, making it an ideal tool. Plus, it’s a great way to unwind and de-stress after a long day.
Although the main focus of Pilates is building core strength, the concentration and focus required to perform the stretches help boost physical and mental health. Pilates emphasizes good posture and lung opening for proper breathing (12).
What has this got to do with brain health? When the body receives enough oxygen, especially the brain, it can function more efficiently.
In a study, women who practiced Pilates for six weeks reported experiencing less anxiety and depression, improved sleep, and increased energy during the day. These physical benefits contributed to improved quality of life. (13).
Improve Your Memory with Regular Exercise
Exercise can benefit our memory and thinking skills, including stimulating growth factors. These chemicals, produced in the brain, help maintain brain cell health, promote the development of new blood vessels, and support the survival of new brain cells (14).
This consolidation of memories is vital as it transforms short-term memory into long-term memory, firmly embedding it in our minds (15).
Furthermore, exercise provides additional benefits beyond memory consolidation. Studies have shown that it can reduce stress and anxiety (16), which negatively impacts our memory.
When we experience stress, our bodies produce cortisol, a hormone associated with memory loss, when present in high levels for extended periods(17). Exercise can help reduce chronic cortisol levels caused by anxiety and stress (18), thereby improving our memory.
How Much Exercise Do You Need To See The Benefits?
You don’t need to run miles or lift weights for hours to see results. Even a moderate amount of exercise can improve your brain health and memory. Just 150 minutes of exercise per week, or half an hour a day with two days off, is all you need to do to reap the benefits (19).
When exercising, aim to increase your heart rate, sweat a little, and still be able to hold a conversation. You can do plenty of exercises to boost your brain’s health if you’re getting your heart rate up and breaking a sweat.
You can easily incorporate exercise into your daily routine by doing something as simple as taking a brisk walk or the stairs instead of the elevator.
Here are some exercises you can do:
Walking: One of the easiest and most effective exercises is walking. It doesn’t require special equipment or training; you can do it anywhere.
Just put on a pair of comfortable shoes and get moving! Aim for 30 minutes of walking or 10,000 steps per day.
Swimming: Swimming is another great way to get moderate-intensity aerobic exercise without putting too much strain on your body.
It’s also low-impact, so it’s easy on your joints and can be great fun. If you don’t know how to swim, plenty of beginner classes are available at most recreational centers.
Cycling: Cycling is another great way to get your heart rate up without putting too much strain on your body.
It’s also a fun activity that you can do with friends or family members.
If you don’t have a bike, you can often rent one from local bike shops, use a bike-sharing service, or borrow one from a friend.
Playing team games: Get the family together and play some physical games. It could be cricket, rounders, football, or tennis.
You will not only get fitter and improve the health of your brain, but you will have fun spending some time with your family and friends.
In addition, when you are having fun, you are likely laughing, which is another factor that boosts mental health, improves mood, and even helps you live longer (20).
Dancing: Dancing is another great way to get your heart rate up and have some fun at the same time.
You can do it with friends, join a class, or pop along at your local nightclub.
When you are dancing, you will be exercising without even realizing it. Don’t take it too seriously; have fun; dance like no one is watching!
If you want to improve your mood, mental health, brain power, and energy levels, then any exercise that gets you moving and your heart rate up will do the trick.
Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain – at any age!
- Physical exercise and activity may be important in reducing dementia risk at any age https://n.neurology.org/content/92/8/362
- The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm
- Does physical activity prevent cognitive decline and dementia?: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/1471-2458-14-510
- Cross-sectional association between physical activity level and subjective cognitive decline among US adults aged ≥45 years, 2015 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0091743520303030?via%3Dihub
- Prevention -High blood pressure (hypertension) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-blood-pressure-hypertension/prevention/
- Hypertension, Brain Damage and Cognitive Decline https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3838597/
- Regulation of cerebral blood flow during exercise https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17722948/
- Yoga Effects on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature https://content.iospress.com/articles/brain-plasticity/bpl190084
- The Effects of an 8-Week Hatha Yoga Intervention on Executive Function in Older Adults https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4202261/
- A randomized controlled trial of Kundalini yoga in mild cognitive impairment https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5540331/
- Benefits of Yoga in Sports –A Study https://www.kheljournal.com/archives/2015/vol1issue3/PartA/29.1.pdf
- Effect of Different Head-Neck Postures on the Respiratory Function in Healthy Males https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6077663/
- A six-week Pilates exercise protocol for improving physical and mental health-related parameters http://dspace.unimap.edu.my/bitstream/handle/123456789/54979/A%20six-week%20pilates%20exercise%20protocol%20for%20improving%20physical%20and%20mental%20health-related%20parameters.pdf?sequence=1
- Acute and Chronic Exercise Effects on Human Memory: What We Know and Where to Go from Here https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/10/21/4812/htm
- Memory Consolidation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4526749/
- Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/
- Effects of stress hormones on the brain and cognition: Evidence from normal to pathological aging https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5619133/
- The effects of exercise intensity on the cortisol response to a subsequent acute psychosocial stressor https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453021002109
- An Overview of Current Physical Activity Recommendations in Primary Care https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6536904/
- Laughter is the Best Medicine https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm