Exercise Protects and Improves Brain Function

According to a recent study published in the journal Neurology, physical activity can slow brain aging by as much as 10 years.

Of the nearly 900 seniors who participated in the study, 90 percent engaged in light exercise such as yoga or walking, or none at all. The remaining 10 percent did medium-to-high intensity exercise. As reported by CBS News:

“Older adults who reported either light or no exercise at all experienced a cognitive decline equal to 10 more years of aging when compared to people who were moderate to intense exercisers.”

Previous research has demonstrated that exercise promotes brain health by releasing hormones from the muscles, which encourage the growth of new brain cells. This process is known as neurogenesis or neuroplasticity.

Your brain’s memory center (hippocampus) is particularly adaptable and capable of growing new cells throughout your entire lifetime, even into your 90s, provided your lifestyle supports it.

Exercise Also Promotes Psychological Health and Good Mood

Exercise is also known to dispel depression — in many cases more effectively than antidepressants. One of the ways exercise promotes mental health is by normalizing insulin resistance and boosting natural “feel good” hormones and neurotransmitters associated with mood control, including endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and GABA.

Swedish researchers have shown that exercise helps reduce stress and related depression. As it turns out, well-trained muscles have higher levels of an enzyme that helps metabolize a stress chemical called kynurenine.

Their finding suggests that exercising your muscles actually helps rid your body of stress chemicals that promote depression.

Other research has also found clear links between inactivity and depression. Women who sat for more than seven hours a day were found to have a 47 percent higher risk of depression than women who sat for four hours or less per day.

Those who don’t do any physical activity have a 99 percent higher risk of developing depression than women who exercise. Creativity also gets a boost from physical activity. According to Stanford University researchers, a brisk walk can increase creativity up to 60 percent.