exercise brain health

6 ways exercise can boost your brain health

We all know that being active is good for your body, but regular exercise is also crucial for your brain health! With more and more research looking at the connection between brain and body, and with conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s on the rise, the importance of brain health is in the spotlight. And turns out, exercise is a vital component.

Benefits of exercise for brain health

So, how does exercise impact your brain? Well, lots of ways! Let’s take a look at how exercise can help:

1. Exercise helps protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia is the leading cause of death for Australian women, and the second leading cause of death for all Australians. Dementia is not one specific disease, rather, it refers a broad term which describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. There’s an estimated 459,000 people living with this condition in Australia.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and it affects up to 70% of all people living with dementia. Alzheimer’s disease damages the brain, causing impaired memory, thinking and behavior.

Although there’s currently no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, the World Health Organization list being physically active as one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk. Research has also found that exercise may help protect against this Alzheimer’s, even in those who are genetically predisposed or at high risk of developing it.

Read more: Can high intensity exercise help fight off dementia?

brain health

2. Exercise boosts memory

Keep forgetting where you put your keys? Maybe it’s time to head to the gym! Research has repeated shown that exercise can help to improve your memory. Regular exercise increases the size of your hippocampus, which is the memory center of the brain. The hippocampus helps humans process and retrieve memory and is also where short-term memories are turned into long-term memories.

Research has repeatedly shown that moderate intensity aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, cycling or jogging, can increase hippocampal volume. One study even found that yoga may have a positive impact on the size of your hippocampus. Whatever type of exercise you choose, the science suggests it will have a positive impact on your memory and recall.

3. Exercise improves cognitive function

Cognitive functioning refers to multiple mental abilities, including learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem solving, decision making, and attention. Science has repeatedly drawn a link between higher levels of physical activity and better cognitive function.

And it doesn’t take long to see results. In fact, one study found that even short, 10-minute bouts of exercise were enough to enhance brain function in older adults.

4. Exercise can help you to sleep better

Sleep is vital for brain function. Without sleep, your brain struggles with memory and decision making and you can feel moody and irritable. We all know how hard it can be to function properly after a bad night’s sleep (one large coffee, please!).

Regular exercise is a great way improve your sleep patterns. It can not only help you to fall asleep quicker but may also improve your sleep quality throughout the night.

And if you’re worried that exercising in the evening will stop you sleeping, don’t fret. Research has shown that exercising at night, even at a high intensity, won’t negatively impact your sleep.

Read more: Can exercise help you sleep better?


5. Exercise reduces stress

In the fast-paced world we live in, stress is increasingly a part of life. Some stress is good, but prolonged stress can have serious consequences for your health. Although we can’t always avoid stress, exercise is a great way to help manage it. Working out can help to reduce the levels of stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline) in your body.

Physical activity can also help take your mind off your worries. The repetitive movement you do while exercising can be almost meditative and they can draw focus to your body, rather than your mind.

brain stress

6. Exercise improves mental health

How good to you feel after you’ve just done a workout. No matter how hard it was, how sweaty you got or how you felt during the session, you always feel GREAT afterwards. Exercise triggers the release of “happy hormones”, like endorphins, which have a positive impact on our mood. One study found that as little as 10 minutes of physical activity per week might increase a person’s happiness.

Aside from making us feel good, exercise has also been shown the protect against mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. These conditions are on the rise, with 1 in 5 Australians experiencing a mental illness in any year. Exercise can play a crucial role by both helping to reduce your risk and managing the symptoms for those living with a mental health condition.

Read more: The connection between physical and mental health


What type of exercise is best for your brain?

There’s no one type of exercise that’s best for your brain health. We recommend ALL Australian adults aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity every week. You should also aim to do strength training exercises at least twice a week. This exercise doesn’t necessarily need to be a done at a gym. There’s plenty of ways to get active and the key is to find one that works for you.

Mixing up your intensity might be a good idea too, with a new study finding that high and low intensity exercise might actually affect different areas of your brain. Researchers discovered that low-intensity exercise triggers the parts of the brain involved in cognition control and attention processing. On the other hand, high-intensity exercise primarily appears to activate networks involved in emotion processing.

Ultimately, the best exercise is the one that you enjoy! Find something that makes you feel good and do that. If you need some help getting started, chat to your local exercise expert. Click here to find a university-qualified professional near you.

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