We all know that there are many benefits to physical exercise and in previous articles, we have demonstrated the several health improvements that can be made by increasing physical activity. For those who practice yoga or meditation, you may be familiar with the concept of the mind-body connection. This same principle is what allows physical health to be directly linked to mental health. Both are equally important and must be tended to appropriately. Learn about some of the ways that cardio routines may help you boost the health of your brain.
How Cardio affects your Brain
Studies have continuously shown that aerobic exercise, in particular is associated with heightened mental capacity. Researchers have found that after doing an aerobic exercise, participants have scored higher on mental performance tests, compared to those who did not exercise. One of the most exciting indications is the fact that these affects on the brain may actually be permanent or semi-permanent. This means that leading an active lifestyle overall, one that incorporates regular cardiovascular activity, is essential to having sustained brain health.
Cardio exercises require more oxygen and that extra oxygen that is pumped into the brain allows it to work at its full potential. This means that every aspect from your memory, problem solving to decision-making abilities are improved by this additional blood flow. Not only does the oxygen play a role, but there are other chemicals and hormones that are released through exercise that also work to improve these functions. Some of these hormones include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which affect mood, learning, and attention, respectively. With the culmination of all of these neurotransmitters being released, our brains are then allowed to improve focus, mood and release tensions.
Aerobic exercisers and Brain Cell Growth
Among the extensive research, one study shows that increased aerobic exercise may actually allow for more brain cell growth. Although the study was conducted primarily on mice, scientists believe that the brain cell growth pattern may have a similar effect in humans. While researchers have not pinpointed what exact factors make this happen, it is thought to be the release of chemicals and hormones in the brain during exercise.
In one study conducted, researchers found that when participants did cardio exercise regularly over a six-month period, the size of their hippocampus was actually enlarged by the end of the study. The hippocampus is the portion of the brain that controls memory and learning. The function of the enlarged brain area was tested by having the participants perform tasks that would measure their ability to recall and concentrate on a number of factors. As you may have guessed, the average scores had improved over the six weeks after regular exercise was performed.
Even if you don’t incorporate cardio exactly as within this controlled study environment, you can create your own measures of brain success to sort of test how increased activity can impact your life. Especially for those who are aging (well, we all are) and have noticed a decline in memory function, conducting your own little home experiment might be worthwhile.
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How to Improve Your Brain Function with Cardio
Even if you believe that your memory is fine, there are numerous mental health benefits that you may want to gain through exercise. Throughout all stages of life, there are specific life stressors from school to newborns to work life. Therefore, improving brain function is something that almost anyone can do by implementing a few of these cardio workout tips.
Intensity: The key is to aim for at least moderate-level cardio activity. This means that your breathing should be deeper than normal, conversation should be more difficult and you should break a sweat.
Duration: Most studies have determined that a “regular” schedule of exercise consists of a routine conducted three times per week for at least 30 minutes each session. This is just enough to see improved brain function. Meanwhile, those who aim to get in more exercise are able to build these functions even quicker and ultimately buffer themselves from many stressors.
Switch It Up: After you master a regular routine of cardio in the first couple of months, you will want to switch up your routine by adding in more advanced moves or forms of exercise so that you are continuously seeing those brain health advantages. Some ways to do this is by beginning an interval training routine or trying a dance class or sport like tennis, which adds an additional component of coordination. These changes are great for challenging yourself physically and mentally as well.
The overwhelming research on cardio exercise and brain health confirms that there is indeed a strong link between our mental and physical wellbeing. Not only can we utilize physical activity to alter our brain functions, but we can do so in non-traditional ways, so no more brain puzzles and yoga necessarily. Instead, we can incorporate moderate levels of cardiovascular exercise in order to achieve this end in a pretty short time period. Understanding this relationship can give us all the more motivation to hit the stairs or the treadmill, not to mention the extensive list of additional benefits of physical health.