HOW EXERCISE AFFECTS THE BRAIN
In this two-part post, I delve into the positive effects of exercise on the brain, in particular it’s effect on the brain as we age.
Despite decades of advice to increase physical activity for the purpose of burning calories to aid in weight loss, millions of people conducting their own experiments have found that exercise does not result in magical body fat loss.
A lack of expected results from faithful efforts dedicating hours upon hours (for years) in gyms, running on treadmills and sitting on bikes, only to be at the same weight as when they started, is very disheartening.
In addition with all the emerging data showing that exercise cannot counteract a poor diet, these excess hours spent in the gym is merely pointless if nutrition planning isn’t correct. As the saying goes, “abs are made in the kitchen,” and you cannot out train a bad diet.
While the effects of exercise alone on fat loss may be disappointing, exercise is very important for overall health and wellbeing. It also strengthens the cardiovascular system, and the endorphin rush induced by intense exercise may serve as a natural anti-depressant (that great feeling we get after a workout). Positive ‘side-effects’ include:
- Stronger muscles
- Increased self-esteem (very overlooked)
Also, muscular contractions from physical activity are crucial for aiding the flow of lymph, which, unlike blood, has no dedicated pump, and only moves when we do.
WHAT IS LYMPH?
It is a clear to yellowish fluid. Unlike blood, which flows throughout the body in a continuous loop, lymph flows in only one direction within its own system. This flow is only upward toward the neck. Here, it flows into the venous blood stream through the subclavien veins. These veins are located on either side of the neck near the collarbones.
After plasma has delivered its nutrients, it leaves the cells. 90% of this fluid returns to the venous circulation as venous blood.
The remaining 10% of this fluid becomes lymph. It is a watery fluid that contains waste products. This waste is protein-rich due to the undigested proteins that were removed from the cells.
One specific area of health exercise is proving beneficial for is Cognitive function (Brain Function). With the baby boomer generation entering their golden years, and Alzheimer’s disease statistic ever growing, concerns about healthy brain aging is becoming a more spoken about topic.
Generally speaking, what’s good for the body is good for the brain, and exercise is no exception. Any type of movement may be beneficial, but according to recent research, moderate and higher intensity workouts have a greater impact than light activity.
In a study that assessed the effects of exercise on cognitive performance, researchers came to the conclusion that the individuals with self-reported low levels of physical activity experienced greater declines in cognitive performance over time compared to subjects with self-reported higher levels of greater intensity exercise.
A standard neuropsychological examination (NPE) was performed, with a repeat examination five years later. To put it simply, this test found that even after five years, the results showed that those individuals with low levels of intensity exercise suffered from worse executive function like paying attention, organising, planning and, prioritising. When compared to individuals who had higher levels of physical activity, these simple things wee reported to be done much better.
The main point that gave me the inspiration to put together this blog post was the affect of a lack of physical exercise and it’s link to Alzheimer’s disease.
A strong body of evidence indicates that Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment are disorders of insulin resistance, so any intervention that increases insulin sensitivity may have the added effect of protecting and preserving Brain Function.
The insulin-sensitive glucose transporters, known as GLUT4s, are expressed in brain regions involved in memory and cognition. In particular, physical activity aimed at increasing and/or preserving skeletal muscle mass may be especially beneficial for facilitating healthy brain aging.
According to a leading researcher in brain fuel metabolism and Alzheimer's disease, “Skeletal muscle is the main site of insulin-mediated glucose utilis
ation in the body and so declining muscle mass (sarcopenia) in the elderly may be a factor contributing to the increased risk of insulin resistance associated with aging.”
Long story short, the older we get the more important it is to keep active and do everything we can to keep as much muscle on our bodies as possible to ensure that our insulin sensitivity is as good as it can be.
And lastly, exercise may help increase brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein associated with strong long-term memory and overall cognitive function. Higher expression of BDNF in the brain is associated with slower rates of cognitive decline in older adults.
I don’t know about you, but I’m choosing to stay active and healthy for more reasons then just to have a nice body to look at when my shirt is off!
Yours in Health,
Coach Anthony Kassis