Exercise for the Mind and Body
When you think about heading to the gym, chances are you have weight loss on the mind. There is plenty of reason for this to be the case. During your medical weight loss program you are taught that losing weight is a matter of burning more calories than you take in. This means making adjustments to your diet, and then getting active to tone muscle and get your body in the right shape.
The physical benefits of exercise are well-known, but what is not as well-known is that exercising regularly can provide just as many benefits to the mind as it can to the body. In 2014, researchers from Harvard University published their findings that regular exercise is proven to help sharpen memory skills and improve critical thinking ability. Another study out of Ireland found similar results in 2011, reporting that just a 30 minute vigorous bike ride helped a group of young men perform better on a series of memory and critical thinking tests.
There has been a long association between exercise and improved mental health, as regular exercise has been shown to reduce an individual’s risk of anxiety and can reduce the symptoms of depression. But this research is showing something else entirely: that getting active can actually help you feel smarter by improving your memory and thinking abilities.
And what may come as a surprise to some, the types of exercise that will provide these benefits vary just as much as personal interests. Each of the following forms of exercise are associated with improved mental abilities:
- Running, Jogging and Walking
- Aerobic activities, including kickboxing
- Weight training
Researchers have found that engaging in an activity that is personally enjoyable supports the mental benefits of exercise. The cardiovascular activities, especially running and swimming, are particularly associated with meditation, as is yoga, which helps to calm the mind and reduce anxiety.
The relationship between exercise and the brain is not completely understood, but experts believe that exercise may trigger the cells in the brain to reinforce old connections between nerve cells and to develop new connections. This denser network of nerve cells is better able to process and store information.
If you’ve been a couch potato most of your life, it’s not too late to get the brain benefits of exercise. One study found that even previously sedentary people over age 60 could improve their brainpower with exercise. Scientists have also found that older people who already have dementia and related cognitive impairments can improve their brain function with physical exercise. By participating in regular physical now you can aid your weight loss goals and prevent or delay cognitive decline later in life.