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Exercise and the Brain

The impact of Exercise on the Brain 

We hear a lot about the positive effects of exercise on the body. Every major system of the body benefits from exercise, especially the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory and endocrine systems. Recently, however, attention has turned to the positive effect of exercise on the brain, which of course is part of the nervous system. This is an exciting and growing area of research. There are many aspects of brain function that have been found to improve under exercise conditions. Perhaps the most interesting are:

  • Mental Health
  • Cognitive (Anti-aging)

 In the area of mental health, the effect of exercise on depression and anxiety disorders has been investigated most extensively. Clinical studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise is just as effective as taking anti-depressants in controlling mild-to-moderate depression. The effects can be achieved by following basic exercise guidelines, such as performing a total of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week. One way that exercise helps is by stimulating the production of endorphins, which are brain chemicals that improve mood and inhibit pain.

For those suffering from mild-to-moderate depression, engaging in regular exercise can be a viable alternative to taking medications.

With regard to cognitive function, exercise improves memory and other skills linked the “executive” regions of the brain. Functional MRI has opened up a whole new line of research on the relationship between exercise and cognition. For example, the hippocampus, which is considered the memory center of the brain, has been shown to increase in size and volume in response to exercise. Information processing also improves under exercise conditions. The implications of these relationships to age-related brain changes are tremendous. One conclusion is that exercise can offset the negative effects of aging on brain function.

All of this further supports the contention that if exercise could be made in pill form, it would be the greatest cure-all in the world.

Marcia Spoto PT, DC, OCS

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