Brain function

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Brain function

A 2008 review of cognitive enrichment therapies (strategies to slow or reverse cognitive decline) concluded that “physical activity, and aerobic exercise in particular, enhances older adults’ cognitive function”.
In mice, exercise improves cognitive functioning via improvement of hippocampus-dependent spatial learning, and enhancement of synaptic plasticity and neurogenesis. In addition, physical activity has been shown to be neuroprotective in many neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases. For instance, it reduces the risk of developing dementia. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that frequent exercise may reverse alcohol-induced brain damage.
There are several possibilities for why exercise is beneficial for the brain. Examples are as follows:
  • Increasing the blood and oxygen flow to the brain
  • Increasing growth factors that help create new nerve cells and promote synaptic plasticity
  • Increasing chemicals in the brain that help cognition, such as dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine, and serotonin
  • Physical activity is thought to have other beneficial effects related to cognition as it increases levels of nerve growth factors, which support the survival and growth of a number of neuronal cells.

Depression

A number of factors may contribute to depression including being overweight, low self-esteem, stress, and anxiety. Endorphins act as a natural pain reliever and antidepressant in the body. Endorphins have long been regarded as responsible for what is known as “runner’s high”, a euphoric feeling a person receives from intense physical exertion. However, recent research indicates that anandamide may possibly play a greater role than endorphins in “runner’s high”. When a person exercises, levels of both circulating serotonin and endorphins are increased. These levels are known to stay elevated even several days after exercise is discontinued, possibly contributing to improvement in mood, increased self-esteem, and weight management. Exercise alone is a potential prevention method and/or treatment for mild forms of depression. Research has also shown that when exercise is done in the presence of other people (familiar or not), it can be more effective in reducing stress than simply exercising alone.

Sleep

A 2010 review of published scientific research suggested that exercise generally improves sleep for most people, and helps sleep disorders such as insomnia. The optimum time to exercise may be 4 to 8 hours before bedtime, though exercise at any time of day is beneficial, with the possible exception of heavy exercise taken shortly before bedtime, which may disturb sleep. There is, in any case, insufficient evidence to draw detailed conclusions about the relationship between exercise and sleep.
According to a 2005 study, exercise is the most recommended alternative to sleeping pills for resolving insomnia. Sleeping pills are more costly than to make time for a daily routine of staying fit, and may have dangerous side effects in the long run. Exercise can be a healthy, safe and inexpensive way to achieve more and better sleep.