Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Exercise Does The Brain Good!

Exercise may lead to a wide range of benefits- increased cardiovascular health, stronger bones and muscles, stronger connective tissue, and increased overall fitness and athleticism.  There is a plethora of evidence that shows exercise is beneficial to the brain (Fernandez et al., 2013).  Research using various methods from a variety of domains supports the finding.  

A recent study, conducted in the Netherlands, found evidence that people who utilized an exercise bike for 6 months experienced an increased connectivity and density in their brain’s white matter. This was seen in people with schizophrenia and people with no clinical diagnosis (Svatkova et al., 2015)  Abstract 

Another study, conducted in Taiwan, found that people with diabetes or metabolic syndrome who utilized a stationary bike for 12 weeks showed an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a growth factor involved in supporting neural plasticity processes- growth and differentiation of new neurons and neuron connections (Tsai et al., 2015) Abstract 

Why do fitness professionals fail to mention that exercise benefits the brain? There are probably three primary reasons for this. First, they are not familiar with the research, which is usually conducted in the field of brain science, as opposed to exercise science. Second, the subject matter can be intimidating – the brain is arguably the most complex structure in existence. Third, they have minimal knowledge of the brain and brain processes, thus they would rather not discuss the topic (brain is often the domain of cognitive, behavioral and neuroscientists).

Some of the key mechanisms mediating the effects of exercise on the brain:

Synaptic plasticity Angiogenesis & vascular growth factors
Neurotransmitters & growth factors.
Synaptic plasticity
Spine density

In my seminar -Your Brain & Exercise- these mechanisms are discussed in detail.  Other topics discussed: why health pros fail to mention brain benefits of exercise, physical activity and school curriculum, exercise and Parkinson’s, depression, stroke, neuroplasticity demystified, what type of exercise (aerobic vs. anaerobic), exercise recommendations for brain health, future research directions, etc. 

In conclusion, exercise offers an array of benefits.  Brain health is imperative to overall health.  The brain is part of the body, and should be referred as so.  Discard use of the phrases “brain and body” and “mental and physical.” The brain is part of the body, and all mental processes emanate from a physical structure: the brain.  

Further Reading: 

Exercise and The Brain   

 Your Brain on Exercise

Exercise Benefits Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease 

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