Even though your brain is technically not a muscle – it’s mostly made up of a void (I bet you have someone in mind) through which neurons travel called grey and white matter – it still requires regular exercise to stay cognitively active.
There are two types of brain exercise. The first is mental stimulation – this type of a brain workout involves reading, learning, socialising – any kind abstract problem solving and even meditation (emptying the mind of thought). This is the only kind of mental workout most of us think of when asked what we can do to increase mental function.
There is in fact another way to exercise our brain’s capability, and that’s by working out the other muscles in our body. Physical exercise benefits the brain in a number of ways, from increased oxygen to the cells, to reduced inflammation and stress relief. Here’s why you need to get yourself a pay as you go pass and head to the gym if you want your brain to stay fit.
Not every workout is a brain workout
With the rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s cases starkly on the rise globally (115 million people), it’s more important than ever to give yourself the best possible chance of preventing such mental decline. A study by the University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercises, those which increase heart rate and make you sweat (for those of you who consider yourself couch potatoes), increase the size of the hippocampus; the part of the brain under the cerebral cortex responsible for consolidating new information.
Importantly, the study also found that not all exercise succeeds and directly improving brain function – muscle toning and lifting weights, for example – do nothing for the hippocampus for instance.
Every workout helps the brain
Alright, this admittedly sounds confusing after digesting the information in the previous paragraph. All exercise can indirectly benefit the brain. Moving (any kind of moving) increases heart rate which gets more oxygen pumping through the body. Exercise also helps to regulate heart and metabolism which in turn decreases the production of stress hormones, helping you sleep better and feel happier.
What you should be doing
Move, get off the couch – join a gym, pay as you go memberships like the one at Lewes Leisure Centre keep your workout flexible. Like I mentioned before, aerobic exercises increase your ability to retain memories and learn new skills. If you can work out in the morning, you’ll prepare your brain to take on new information and ease into the stresses of the day. Not every workout routine is a push up; choose a type of exercise you’ve always wanted to get better at, like martial arts, dance, or roller blading. If you enjoy yourself, you’re more likely to keep at it.