Exercise the Brain
The first snowfall of the season has landed in Northeast Tennessee, suggesting that now is the best time to stay inside, bundle up, and binge through Netflix (season two of The Crown recently premiered, in case you missed it). While regular R&R is a necessity of life, it is critical for your long-term health that you not only exercise your body, but also your mind.
Chances are high that you can likely quote some of the many positive health benefits of physical exercise, but numerous studies have also highlighted the impact that physical exercise, and aerobic exercise in particular, has on our brains:
- A University of Georgia study found that even twenty minutes of exercise facilitates information processing and memory functions.
- UCLA research found that exercise makes it easier for the brain to grow new neural connections.
- A study from Stockholm demonstrated that running resulted in increased hippocampal growth (the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory).
- A study of elderly individuals found significant increases in brain volume after six months of aerobic fitness training.
- Increased attention spans were found in Dutch students following aerobic exercise.
- Aerobic and resistance exercise was found to be as effective as medication in treating depression or other psychological conditions.
And even non-intensive physical activity has noticeable benefits:
- The simple act of walking can bolster creative thought and idea generation.
- Daily yoga and/or meditation has been shown to reduce stress, fear, and anxiety.
- Balance and coordination exercises have a noticeable impact on cognitive function.
Of course, there are days when the weather is simply too harsh for outside exercise, or perhaps you already hit the gym hard yesterday and need a day off from intense physical activity. On these days, there are still ways you can work to improve your brain health:
- Mindful meditation and reflection.
- Social engagement.
- Learning to filter out negative news, distractions, and even people.
- Stimulating puzzles and games, both electronic and non-electronic.
- And finally, simply enough: getting plenty of sleep.
The impact of brain stimulation on your long-term health cannot be understated:
- A study by the National Institute of Health found that mental exercise could partially offset the expected decline of thinking skills in elderly individuals.
- A study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that individuals with regular mental stimulation had a 65-75% better probability of remaining mentally “sharp” as compared to those who did not.
- And a study from Columbia University found that stimulating mental activity could reduce the potential risk of developing brain disease.
I’m sure you get the point by now: physical exercise and stimulating mental engagement are both good and necessary for your long-term brain health. Perhaps this is why the Boy Scout motto states that we are to remain both “physically strong AND mentally awake”. Start making regular mental (and physical) exercise part of your daily and weekly routine to ensure that you have the stamina to run (literally and figuratively) towards your goals.
Jeremiah Clark, M.A., is a healthcare IT consultant with six Epic Systems certifications. He is also
a partner at Appalachian Digital, a local web development agency, and a founding partner of
MHQC LLC Real Estate Development. He and his wife Erin are natives of Kingsport, TN.