It’s the middle of winter, the nights are dark and you’ve had a long hard day at work. It’s at times like these that the idea of going to the gym is simply not appealing and so easy to skip, go home to curl up on the sofa with the dog and watch TV! Yet the simple fact is, we know, if we make the effort, we will feel energised, positive and proud of ourselves for going. Though the evidence of the positive effects exercise has on our brain goes a step deeper than that. Growing evidence reveals that exercise causes actual changes in our brain that help relieve depression, anxiety and keep the mind active regardless of our age.
We all know about the facts that exercise will keep us fit and healthy and lengthen our lives by reducing our risks of disease such as cardiovascular, stroke and type 2 diabetes. However, there has been less emphasis on the effects on our brain, improving our mood, mental performance and long term health of the brain. It’s strange that we wouldn’t have given this as much consideration, after all, our brains are physical organs that respond to everything we do to ourselves, like any area of our body.
Recent research concluded that lifelong activity into old age could help protect our cognitive function and prevent the onset of dementia. This is great news and it comes at a time when we know we are living longer and the media is rife with reports about the time-bomb of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia as a result of this longevity. The news that we can do something about it and protect our bodies in a more natural way is a welcome one. Improvements in learning, attention, memory, stress levels and sleep not forgetting protection of the brain’s white matter, the tissue that passes on messages are also welcome effects of that trip to the gym!
The hippocampus, the area of the brain that stores and organises memories, is inclined to shrink as we get older. This leads to memory loss and a risk of dementia. Research has revealed that people who are fit have a larger hippocampus and that exercise can reverse this age related decline of its size. This study suggests that the more you have exercised throughout your life, the lower your risk of suffering from cognitive illnesses. As well as improving our memory, exercise can improve our concentration, keep our brains sharp, think more clearly and have a faster intake of information.
So if you haven’t been much of an exerciser during your life, it’s never too late to start. From cycling to work or walking around the park, build slowly to avoid injury and maintain motivation. If you want to take it a step further, make the commitment and join a gym. Go with a friend if you need the support but remember to take the advice of your gym instructor and don’t overdo it. Keep well hydrated and make sure you make regular trips to the water coolers to increase your fluid intake. Anytime you feel like skipping your trip to the gym or run around the park, bear in mind that ageing is 30% genetics and 70% lifestyle so making the right choices now will allow us to continue to live life to the full in the future.