How To Counter The Effects Of Aging On Brain Activity? Exercise

As we age, it is natural to notice a decline in how our brains function. We don't learn new things as quickly. We tend to forget more easily, and so forth. However, we do not need to allow our cognitive prowess to decline. There is a simple behavioral modification that we can apply to prevent further deterioration and to actually improve our brains' function. We can even make our brains grow in volume with this behavior.
If you look up the benefits of exercise, you will encounter a plethora of information on how exercise helps us. In fact, exercise could very well be the "miracle drug" for any number of ailments. Not only does exercise benefit our bodies, it also significantly affects our brains in the following manner:
* Exercise promotes brain health and plasticity. *1 The physiological benefit of exercise involves promoting oxygen and blood circulation through the brain. There are a fair number of studies that indicate that habitual aerobic exercise promotes vascular health in the brain. Brain plasticity is defined as its natural ability to adapt and change. It refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses. More plasticity means the brain can more easily adapt to new environments and circumstances and encode new experiences.

* Exercise increases brain-derived neurotrophic and nerve growth factors in the hippocampus. *1 This basically means that exercise increases the proteins that have been proven to promote survival, development, and maintenance of neurons. In addition to that broad benefit, exercise promotes an increase of these beneficial proteins in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain primarily associated with learning and memory. If you increase the proteins that help neurons function and develop in the learning center of the brain that, in turn, promotes learning and retention of cognitive function.

* Exercise reduces the impact of stress on the brain. *2 Prolonged exposure to stress negatively impact neurons causing dendritic atrophy and spine reduction. Voluntary exercise is believed to relieve stress and reduce depression, in effect stopping the atrophy and reduction.

* Exercise enhances memory in the aging brain. *3 A number of studies indicate that fitness training positively influences such cognitive processes as planning, scheduling, working memory, and multitasking, among others. Many of these processes show a decline with age. The positive effect of exercise against this decline was increased with a varied exercise regimen that included aerobic, strength, and flexibility training.

* Exercise, even in a relatively short time period, may increase brain matter.3,1 An experiment done by Kramer et al. suggests that exercise can begin to restore some loss of brain volume associated with normal aging. Their experiment involved randomly assigning older adults to an aerobic or non-aerobic exercise group for 6 months. They then used a high-resolution imaging technique to measure any changes in brain matter. They found that the older adults in the aerobic exercise group significantly increased the volume of gray matter in the frontal and superior temporal lobes. In addition, studies specifically measuring the neurotrophics referenced above also found a corresponding increase in the size of the hippocampus and other regions of the brain associated with higher level thinking. This is good news for those of us aging and not exercising as much as we should.

In summary, science is finding more and more evidence to support the statement that exercise helps our brains to think, feel, and function normally. It shows us that our brains are amazing, adaptive organs under normal circumstances. Even if we haven't been exercising as we've gotten older, we can still enable our brains to heal and grow through exercise. The key is to be consistent by exercising at least three times a week and to cover aerobic, strength training, and flexibility routines.


*1 Neeper, S. A., Gómez-Pinilla, F., Choi, J., & Cotman, C. W. (1996). Physical activity increases mRNA for brain-derived neurotrophic factor and nerve growth factor in rat brain. Brain research, 726(1), 49-56.

*2 Cotman, C. W., & Berchtold, N. C. (2002). Exercise: a behavioral intervention to enhance brain health and plasticity. Trends in neurosciences, 25(6), 295-301.

*3 Kramer, A., Erickson, K., & Colcombe, S. (2006). Exercise, cognition, and the aging brain. Journal of Applied Physiology, 101(1), 1237-1242.

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