It is important to understand why physical activity relates to brain health. Every time your heart beats, 25 percent of the blood and nutrients from that one heartbeat goes directly to your brain. We have known for some time that physical exercise is critical to cardiac health. Research is now beginning to underscore a similar value for physical exercise to brain health! Indeed, a 2006 study by Colcombe and colleagues found that as little as three hours a week of brisk walking (aerobic exercise) increases blood flow to the brain and may trigger neurochemical changes that increase production of new brain cells. The regions of the brain most affected by the aerobic exercise included the frontal lobes (important for complex thinking, reasoning, and attention) and the corpus collosum (the bundle of white matter that bridges the two sides of the brain). Enter physical changes in the brain (positive and negative) and functional or cognitive ability.
There are some general rules that appear to be useful regarding physical activity and brain health:
- Cardiovascular health is important to brain health; the more you can increase the strength of your heart and the output of blood from the heart through physical activities the healthier your brain will probably be.
- Focus your behavioral change on those physical activities research has found to be important to brain health.
- Begin to develop an ambidextrous brain by using your non-dominant body half more often. Consider writing with your non-dominant hand several minutes every day. You will be amazed as your practice leads to increased comfort and legibility (brain reserve is being built).
Another reason to exercise is the release of the “feel-good” hormone Endorphin. This hormone has a positive effect on the body by helping to lower stress levels and improving self-esteem.