Corinne Austin | Personal Training

Exercise will Boost your Brain Power

We all know that exercise is good for us.  In our daily lives we are confronted by media campaigns and gym advertisements that promote active living and regular exercise to help combat cholesterol, reduce arthritic pain, fight lifestyle-type diseases, and to prevent extra pounds stacking on.


But were you aware that beyond the obvious physical benefits of boosting your strength and fitness there is growing evidence that working out can enhance the performance of your brain?  So, not only is exercise great for your body and your weight management, but it can make you smarter and more productive too.  Therefore, regular exercise is as important as going to school and learning.


Scientists have very recently announced that those who partake in regular exercise are encouraging their brains to grow new nerve cells.  This is incredible given that for decades this was considered an impossible neuro-biological event.  Further, other researchers have also discovered that high intensity exercise assists older nerve cells to form dense networks which enable our brains to go into overdrive and increase in efficiency.  Such findings provide us with clues that by engaging in regular physical activity we could quite possibly slow down or eradicate the onset of cognitive disorders such as Alzheimers Disease and Dementia.


Until now, the only link between athletic and mental prowess was thought to be the notion that when we exercise our blood pumps around the body faster, and therefore, like the muscles, the brain is being fed more blood.  More blood means more oxygen, and more oxygen means added nourishment for all cells, no matter where in the body they are.  This was the only explanation science could give with any certainty for enhanced brain power following an exercise bout.


But now there has been a break-through discovery in the mind-body connection and it’s relationship with regular exercise.  It goes a little something like this… You exercise.  When you exercise your muscles contract.  When your muscles contract they secrete chemicals, namely something called IGF-1.  The IGF-1 travels through the blood, crosses the blood-brain barrier, and enters the brain itself.  Once in the brain IGF-1 prompts the production of other chemicals including a very special one called BDNF – Brain derived neurotrophic factor.


BDNF is a supersonic chemical that contributes to almost all of the physiological activities that lead to higher thought.  By engaging in regular exercise the body builds up its stores of BDNF.  The presence of BDNF stimulates a process in the brain that is identical to that of when a new fact is learnt or a new skill acquired.  Essentially, brains with a regularly renewed supply of BDNF have an enhanced capacity for knowledge and greater memory storage.  Conversely, brains with low levels of BDNF shut themselves off to new information and have poorer efficiency.


In addition to this, other research has supported the notion that maintaining a good level of fitness increases growth in the brains frontal lobes.  The frontal lobes are reknowned for their ‘executive’ functioning as they play a major role in planning, decision-making and multi-tasking.  Astonishingly, people who exercise regularly will suffer less damage from a stroke or other head injury.


And what’s even more exciting is that exercise can also positively affect the unborn.  Ground-breaking research has shown that babies born to mothers who exercised regularly during pregnancy have a significantly higher number of cells in the hippocampus – the area of the brain responsible for intelligence.


The evidence is outstanding.  Smart people exercise.  But now it’s evident that exercising can make you smarter.  And although the only exercise some people will get is flying off the rail, diving off the deep end, stepping on other peoples toes, and jumping to conclusions, there is no denying that exercise is a truly great medicine for the body AND for the mind.


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