Exercise: Benefits for the Body and the Brain

Physical Benefits & Growth Hormone:
We have known for years the importance of exercise for keeping our bodies healthy and strong. Aerobic exercise keeps our heart healthy while weight training supports our skeletal system by strengthening muscles, tendons and bones. Both types also serve as important calorie burning activities which help to maintain optimal weight.

As we age, our bodies reduce their output of an important hormone called Growth Hormone. This is thought to be the most important hormone related to preventing physical declines associated with aging. Much attention has been paid to growth hormone and many doctors experiment with giving growth hormone injection. Unfortunately, we can’t quite match what Mother Nature designed and injecting growth hormone can come with serious side effects that outweigh the potential benefits.

Exercise is the only thing that can stimulate significant growth hormone release later in life. The more vigorous the exercise is, the greater the spike in growth hormone. This serves as a real fountain of youth because growth hormone prevents the physical declines associated with aging.

Cognitive Benefits:
Aside from all the physical benefits of exercise, emerging research is pointing to another great reason to exercise. A new report released just days ago confirmed what researches have suspected; Alzheimer’s disease is reaching epidemic proportions. More than 5 million Americans have been diagnosed which means that 1 out of every 8 adults over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s.

The good news is that exercise has been shown to be helpful in improving the memory of those with Alzheimer’s and beneficial for helping prevent the onset of the disease. This news about exercise confirms previous studies which demonstrate the ability of exercise to improve age related declines in memory and cognitive function.

What may be most impressive is that the level of exercise needed to positively impact brain function is minimal. Forty five minutes of walking 3 times per week showed significant impacts on memory and cognition in older individuals. Subjects slowly worked up to this target time of exercise over several weeks. Another group who did stretching and toning exercises showed no benefits in brain function. Brain imaging studies have verified that exercise can improve brain size and density in areas associated with memory and cognitive functions.

Scientists have discovered a brain chemical called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that helps nerve cells grow and connect. Increased connectivity of brain neurons is associated with higher cognitive function. Numerous studies during the last decade have shown that short stints of exercise increase BDNF in the brains of animals. This mirrors the human studies showing improved brain function from moderate exercise. Other theories of how exercise benefits the brain are related to the increased blood flow that occurs during aerobic exercise.

Rates of cognitive problems associated with aging are approaching epidemic numbers. As the baby boomer population continues to age, numbers will continue to grow. Moderate levels of aerobic activity, in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle show significant promise for helping to stave off cognitive declines related to aging. Previous theories about keeping brain function sharp revolved around mental activity such as crossword puzzles or cognitive brain exercises. No study to date has shown increases in brain size from these types of exercise. Only physical activity seems to be able to grow the brain.

The pharmaceutical industry spends millions of dollars every year researching drugs to address this problem, but it appears a large part of the solution is quite simple; STAY ACTIVE FOR AS LONG AS YOU CAN.

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