Cardio exercise can strengthen your brain in the same way that it strengthens your muscles.
Cardiovascular exercise, which stimulates the heart, muscles, and sweat glands, is one of the most beneficial medicines for overall health. And what is beneficial to the body is also beneficial to the brain.
"There is no one-size-fits-all medical intervention that can prevent the onset of dementia and other memory problems," says Dr. Julie Brody Magid, Clinical Director of the Memory Disorders Assessment Clinic at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. "When symptoms manifest, certain medications may help slow mental decline. However, cardio exercise has consistently been shown to help protect the brain from cognitive decline and, in some cases, to improve cognitive functioning.
How does cardio help your brain function better? Numerous theories exist. The research has concentrated on how it can strengthen the heart, improve artery health, increase blood flow to the brain, combat inflammation, and boost key chemicals that promote new brain cell growth.
Cardiovascular exercise, for example, activates a molecule known as a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF aids in the repair of brain cells and the formation of new ones. Additionally, it has been linked to a larger hippocampus, the brain region responsible for memory storage and retrieval.
The hormone irisin, which is produced by muscles during exercise, was found to protect mice against brain inflammation, according to a study published online on Aug. 20, 2021, in Nature Metabolism.
Additionally, the study suggested that increasing irisin levels through exercise may help alleviate the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. (While this was an animal study, the researchers speculated that the effect might be applicable to humans based on previous research.)
Cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart and increases blood flow throughout the body, including to the brain's white matter. This aids in the prevention of vascular dementia, which is caused by decreased blood flow to the brain. Additionally, increased blood flow can help clear toxins from the brain, thereby reducing inflammation and promoting neurogenesis — the formation of new brain cells.
Cardiovascular exercise is beneficial even if you have memory problems.
It is never too late to begin a brain-protective exercise, even if early signs of memory loss are present. Cardio exercise's effect on people with early cognitive decline was examined in a study published online on March 23, 2021, in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. Participants who participated in a yearlong moderate-to-vigorous cardio program performed better on cognitive tests than those who only stretched. They enhanced their executive function abilities, which include planning and decision-making. While the majority of exercisers walked briskly, others engaged in swimming, cycling, or ballroom dancing. They began with a 30-minute, three-day-a-week routine and increased it to five workouts per week after six months.
It makes no difference what type
How much cardio do you think your brain requires? While research is ongoing on this subject, it may depend on your level of fitness. According to a 2015 study, 20 minutes of moderate exercise provided the greatest cognitive boost for nonathletes. Nonetheless, a study published in the Journal of Sports Science in January 2021 determined that 45 minutes was the optimal duration for trained cyclists and triathletes.
Until more information becomes available, Dr. Brody Magid recommends adhering to the federally recommended guidelines of at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week. She suggests that you establish and adhere to a regimen that has been approved by your primary care physician.
Again, there is no clear winner when it comes to cardio. However, it is critical to push yourself. "Just as your body acclimates and does not become stronger when you perform the same workout repeatedly, your brain can also become too accustomed to routine exercise," Dr. Brody Magid explains.
She recommends varying the duration of your cardio workouts and incorporating new, challenging activities whenever possible. If you are a regular walker, consider swimming. If you ride a bicycle, consider hiking. Additionally, consider cardiovascular exercise that incorporates mental stimulation and challenges. "These provide a two-for-one benefit of exercising your mind and body," Dr. Brody Magid explains.
For example, non-contact boxing requires you to memorize various punch sequences, requiring you to concentrate and maintain focus. Racquet sports such as tennis or pickleball require you to react to an opponent's shots and then plan and execute your return. "The bottom line is that any movement is better than none when it comes to the brain and exercise, and the more you move, the more you boost and protect your brain," Dr. Brody Magid says.