Did you know that just three months of consistent exercise can boost your brain function? Exercise neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki explains how working out can strengthen your cognitive abilities.
According to Suzuki, even just ten minutes of walking can alleviate anxiety and depression because of the neurochemicals released during exercise. She shares a study showing how participants who were previously sedentary experienced notable improvements in their baseline mood, prefrontal function, and hippocampal function after engaging in only two to three exercise sessions per week over several months.
If you’re already exercising, you’re likely still able to reap further cognitive benefits. Suzuki explains how increasing the intensity of your preexisting workouts can yield ever greater benefits for brain health. Just don’t go overboard, she says, because that can hurt you more than help you.
WENDY SUZUKI: What is the best form of exercise for me today to maximize my cognitive function and, perhaps, even more importantly, what is that long-term exercise prescription that's going to make my brain and keep my brain as big and fat and fluffy and healthy as it can be as I age?
Here's what we do know: You can start to reap significant brain benefits, not over 44 years, but over three months. The easiest way to start to reap the benefits of exercise on the brain is that 10-minute walk. Even 10 minutes of just walking can decrease your anxiety and depression levels. When you can't handle it anymore, you decide to go out for a walk, that's why you feel better. It is that neurochemical bubble bath working.
We showed that low-fit people that exercise for just two to three times a week, anything that gets your heart rate up, they got significant improvements in their baseline mood state, their prefrontal function got significantly better at baseline, not just right after exercise and their hippocampal function got significantly better, so even if you are sedentary right now, that is doable.
But then what about the next group of people? I'm already working out. Am I doing enough? What is enough? And for that group of people, we looked at the effects of exercise more than you're exercising now for the next three months- and what we found was every additional drop of sweat counted. Those people are benefiting from even higher levels of baseline dopamine and serotonin- so you are just keeping those dopamine/serotonin levels higher for a longer period of time. Better baseline mood. You are growing more hippocampal brain cells and strengthening the prefrontal cortex more than somebody that is sedentary. You're on a roll. You're leveraging those changes and you're getting even more in.
Can I exercise too much? Of course, we can understand that in terms of stress on your body, but too much of anything is bad for your brain. Probably not most of us can get to that high enough exercise level. Maybe it's those Olympic-level athletes that really push their bodies to the limits that might start to be negative for your brain, but most of us have a really big window over which to improve our brain function through our physical activity.
My greatest dream is optimizing all those brain beneficial activities. And I would love to start to identify those patterns of activities that are most beneficial for different populations. And of course, the ultimate question: 'What is that lifelong story, that trajectory of what we should be doing for our gender, for our age, for our ethnic group, for our genetic background that will make the aging process most beautiful for us?
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