Do active people have bigger brains?

Prya Oliveira, Staff Writer

 

 What if there was something that you could do right now that would instantly improve your brain function? Would you do it? We grow up with the idea that exercise benefits your long-term physical health, but has anyone ever told you about how exercise affects the health of your brain? Of course, working out has proven to have positive effects on your physique as a whole, but let’s not forget that working out is a huge mental game.

 Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience at New York University, dedicates her career to studying the effects that exercise has on the long-term health of the brain. She says that “Exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your brain.” Her interest in this study sparked when she decided to go to the gym for the first time, and soon realized she instantly felt better after her workout. In her research, she concluded that there are three benefits that immediately affect your brain after a single workout. The increase of dopamine and serotonin,  the ability to shift focus and attention lasting for two hours, and an improvement of reaction time. Suzuki shared her research during her TED Talk titled, “The Brain-changing Benefits of Exercise” that got over four million views online. Her passion of learning about the mental aspect of exercise is clear in her TED Talk, especially when she had the audience do a quick two-minute workout. Suzuki then observed how the crowd’s energy changed after that and noticed that everyone seemed to have a boost in their moods.

 Dementia is a scary condition to have. It affects everyday life by impacting judgement, communication, memory, and visual perception. Numerous people are unaware that Alzheimer’s disease falls under the umbrella of dementia and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Exercise is the one thing that you can do to decrease the risk of getting dementia by increasing the volume of the hippocampus.

 The hippocampus is the portion of your brain that is responsible for your memory, emotions, and your ability to learn. A study done by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, proves that the hippocampus shrinks with age, increasing the risk for dementia, meaning that anyone could be affected by this condition. The experiment, involving 120 older adults, concluded that, “Exercise training increased hippocampal volume by 2 percent, effectively reversing age-related loss in volume by 1 to 2 y.” Suzuki also further confirmed that a 30 minute session of exercise generates new cells in the hippocampus, expanding its volume, leading to the improvement of memory.

 A 35 year study done by Cardiff University gathered that there are five behaviors that would reduce the risk of dementia. These behaviors come as no shock: not smoking, having a clean diet, limiting alcohol intake, exercising, and maintaining a low bodyweight. However, researches were “really amazed” to see that exercise was the most effective behavior at bettering long-term mental and physical health. Many would not associate dementia with exercising at all, but the principle investigator of this study, Peter Elwood concluded that, “Healthy behaviors have a far more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure.” Although dementia cannot be cured or prevented, it can be slowed down with exercise.

 The term “working out” can, and often does, intimidate people. A study done by CBS revealed that 80 percent of adults in the United State fail to get the recommended amount of physical activity per week. You don’t have to be at the gym every day to meet the recommended amount because it can be easily achieved. The U.S. government suggests that adults should get at least 2.5 hours of intense physical activity per week, which can be broken up into a few minutes per day. This includes simple activities like walking around the block or choosing to take the stairs instead of the elevator.

 Educating yourself on the benefits of exercise will lessen any fears that you have associated with working out. Exercise not only produces chemicals that improve mood, but also the ability to improve the strength of memory and focus. Along with improving the body and overall health, exercise expands the hippocampus, decreasing the risk of being affected by dementia.

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