Here's how a cardio workout makes the brain sharper

Research shows that cardio workouts improve brain function and memory in children as young as 4 and grown-ups as old as 85.

Myupchar September 19, 2019 12:21:22 IST
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Here's how a cardio workout makes the brain sharper
  • Research shows that cardio workouts improve brain function and memory in children as young as 4 and grown-ups as old as 85

  • By altering the size of the hippocampus - a seahorse-shaped structure in the lower part of the brain that is responsible for forming new memories and helping us to learn new things

  • Research shows that aerobic exercises can also work a bit like antidepressant drugs: they increase the production of neurotrophic factors and induce further growth and regeneration of nerve cell in the hippocampus area

We each have our own fitness goals: from losing flab to building six-pack abs, achieving greater flexibility and reducing our risk of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, we want different things from our workouts.

But for those of us who do some form of aerobics, there's an added benefit: improved brain function and memory.

Heres how a cardio workout makes the brain sharper

Representational image.
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Research shows that cardio workouts improve brain function and memory in children as young as 4 and grown-ups as old as 85.

How?

By reducing insulin resistance and inflammation and improving overall health, of course. But also by altering the size of the hippocampus - a seahorse-shaped structure in the lower part of the brain that is responsible for forming new memories and helping us to learn new things.

Here’s a quick look at how workouts that are good for heart health are also good for brain function:

Brain wave

Walking, running, cycling, swimming, skipping rope, Zumba and Bollywood dancing are all forms of aerobic exercises because they use up oxygen to burn calories.

As far back as 2003, Phillip D. Tomporowski, Department of Exercise Science, University of Georgia, U.S., wrote in “Effects of acute bouts of exercise on cognition”: “...submaximal aerobic exercise performed for periods up to 60 min(utes) facilitate specific aspects of information processing; however, extended exercise that leads to dehydration compromises both information processing and memory functions”.

Most aerobic exercises are “submaximal” because they don’t ask us to exceed our maximum capacity.

More recently, researchers at the University of British Columbia argued that regular aerobic exercises which force the heart and sweat glands to work harder also affect the hippocampus in a way that resistance-training, and movements for better balance and muscle-tone do not.

Dr Scott McGinnis, an associate neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School, wrote on the Harvard Health Publishing website last year: “Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions (like the hippocampus).”

Old versus young

Playing is good for academic performance, according to research published in Nature Neurology — a peer-reviewed journal — in 2008. Researchers Charles H. Hillman, Kirk I. Erickson and Arthur F. Kramer wrote in their article "Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition" that on one hand, physical activity can have a positive impact on the perceptual skills, intelligence quotient, achievements, verbal tests, math tests, and developmental level of children aged 4-18, on the other, they can stimulate older people intellectually and keep them socially engaged (aerobic activities tend to be group activities).

In older people, this can help to limit the effects of ageing on the central nervous system.

Feel-good

We know that physical activities like running give people a high, as their brains release endorphins or feel-good hormones. Surprisingly, research shows that aerobic exercises can also work a bit like antidepressant drugs: they increase the production of neurotrophic factors (small proteins required for the growth and maturation of brain cells or neurons) and induce further growth and regeneration of nerve cell in the hippocampus area.

According to one estimate, 20% of Indians over the age of 60 are expected to have some form of dementia by 2050. Understanding the link between exercise and brain function may help us to stall and even reverse this trend. Happily, experts say that just 150 minutes of moderate activity a week is enough to improve brain and heart health.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information on Dementia, please read our in-depth article here.

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