All Health's Breaking Loose: Exercise and brain health

If you took all of my clients over the past 10 years — whether from group classes at the gym, or my Mind & Body Sculpting class at the Community Center, personal training clients or beloved Wellness Boot Campers — polled them all and asked the reasons they exercise, approximately 85% of these lovely individuals would list “weight loss” as one of the main reasons they exercise.

Your body weight is an “in your face” biomarker of what is going on with the processes of your body. It’s a good thing to pay attention to, and if looking lean and mean in your jeans motivates you to keep exercising, then I’m OK with that.

But let’s not underestimate the power of what is happening when you get your body moving. Your amazing, intelligent healing machine is capable of managing so much more than what meets the eye in the mirror (visual here: you pulling on your favorite jeans and then turning all the way around to see how they look from the back).

The benefits of exercise are not exclusive to the body: Exercise keeps your brain “fit” as well. In late adulthood, some notice memory impairment and balance problems; this is because the hippocampus is attempting to shrink. This is how dementia gets a foothold. A new study shows us that regular exercise, over the course of a year, can increase the size of your hippocampus — the part of your brain that manages memory and spacial navigation.

Out of 120 non-exercisers, half were assigned to a year-long aerobic exercise program of 40-minute sessions three days a week. The half that exercised had increases in hippocampus volume, up to 2.12%! Other related studies support this newfound power of exercise; MRI tests have shown that sedentary children who start to exercise begin to test “smarter.” The more they exercise, the more increased activity is found in the prefrontal cortex, the area we use for critical thinking, social behavior and decision making.

In February of this year, while commenting on a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ann Luktis of the Wall Street Journal stated, “A year of modest aerobic exercise reversed normal brain shrinkage by one to two years in older adults and improved their memory function. As people age, the hippocampus, the brain's memory center, loses 1% to 2% of its volume annually, affecting memory and possibly increasing the risk for dementia. A growing body of evidence has pointed to aerobic exercise as a low-cost hedge against neurocognitive decline.”

It’s clear that exercise is good for all parts of you. It relieves anxiety, thwarts depression, boosts metabolism, increases libido, promotes restful sleep, improves cardiovascular function and cholesterol levels as well as agility, strength and coordination. Now we know it‘s good for brain function as well.

There are many reasons to feel good about exercising; my favorite is that exercise feels good. So, as your couch potato friends are running around this spring, hiding their own Easter eggs, you’ll look lean and mean in your jeans and still have the cognitive function to know it.

I’ll see you in two weeks.

Love & health,


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