It’s easy to notice improvements in our physical health when we exercise - our clothes may fit a bit looser, we have more energy, we become ill less often. The physical benefits of exercise are tangible and they serve as motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Did you know though, that maintaining your brain is just as important as your physical body? And the same exercises that boost your physical health can increase your brain power, prevent cognitive decline and prevent age-related conditions like Dementia?
Well it’s true! Exercise transforms your brain just like it does your body and in the same way that some workouts are better than others for producing physical benefits, some are better at working your brain! Here’s a useful list of the best 5 exercises for improving brain health:
Running has always been lauded as an exercise for its power to burn calories, build muscle and transform the general physical health of its enthusiasts and now more and more experts are coming to the conclusion that running can have similar benefits for brain health as well!
When you run regularly, your body is encouraged to produce new brain cells. Noone is quite sure yet why this is the case, but the growth of brain cells helps the body to fight neurological conditions like depression, anxiety and stress which cause a decline in brain cells. Research has also discovered links between regular running and improvements in memory.
2. Yoga and Meditation
Yoga is well known as a workout for both body and brain. Research studying the impact of yoga on the brain has found that those who practice it regularly are less at risk of cognitive decline than those who do not. The results showed that yoga has a positive effect on memory scores, reduces migraines and improves quality of sleep.
The meditation aspect of yoga also has powerful effects on mental health, with regular yoga proven to boost mood in those who regularly do it, as well as fighting stress and having a positive effect on those with existing conditions like depression, anxiety and ADHD.
Walking is an exercise with truly universal appeal. Anyone can get out walking, regardless of age or fitness level, and it is the ideal exercise for someone who’s just starting out on their journey to a healthy lifestyle. But while it’s often recommended for its physical benefits, walking is also great for your brain! Regular walking enhances the neural connections in the brain, improving its ability to communicate internally. This means that walkers are likely to notice improvements in their abilities to plan, prioritise and multitask.
4. Strength Training
Weight training is something that we often neglect as part of our regular exercise routine. It can be seen a sport reserved only for bodybuilders and elite competitors, but in reality it's a crucial part of any healthy lifestyle that we can all enjoy the benefits of. Lifting weights helps improve strength, preserves our muscles and improves balance and flexibility, and it's also great for brain health too!
Research at Harvard University in 2016 found that regular weight training improved cognitive scores in trial participants and these improvements were even more likely to last in the long -term than those gained through aerobic exercise!
Perhaps a surprising addition to this list, but there are many reasons why dancing is one of the best things you can do for your brain health. The best exercises require a range of movements and use multiple muscle-groups, and dancing is ideal in this regard with it’s almost unlimited number of diverse routines and steps.
But dancing doesn’t only work your body, keeping in step with the music requires concentration and learning new routines develops memory and muscle-memory, meaning that dancing provides a double workout, targeting both physical and mental faculties. A 2017 study published in the journal - Frontiers of Human Neuroscience found that seniors who took dancing lessons once a week, over a period of 18 weeks, demonstrated an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain. This is the part of the brain most affected by ageing and cognitive decline caused by conditions like Dementia, but it is also crucial for memory and learning.