Inflammation may be an underlying cause of a wide range of diseases and disorders in the body and brain. Exercise reduces a number of inflammatory markers linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers, neurodegenerative conditions and more. New studies shows that a 20-minute moderate workout has measurable effects on the immune system and that each moderate, relatively short exercise bout exerts regulatory/suppression effects over inflammatory activities of immune cells, therefore repeated and regular exercise is recommended.
Reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke
Exercise benefits the heart by improving blood pressure, cholesterol levels, the physical structure of the heart, and blood vessel function. Studies have suggested that 30 minutes per day is good enough to keep the heart in shape, while others have suggested we do more than this to get a real effect. Additionally, too much exercise has also been shown to be stressful to the heart, therefore there is a happy medium for optimal cardiovascular health.
Data from CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, showed that for people who exercised regularly, their telomeres were 140 base pairs longer on average than sedentary people’s, which correlates to being years “younger” than their sedentary peers. Also, adults who engage in high levels of physical activity have nine years’ less cell aging than sedentary individuals.
Another study this month, from Mayo Clinic, found that exercise in older people who were formerly sedentary had at least as strong an impact as in it did in young people—at least in the kinds of genes that were expressed. The study also found that these changes were much more robust in response to interval training than to weight lifting or moderate exercise, which may mean that for some things, the type of exercise we choose matters.
It triggers the growth of new brain cells
Neuroscientists used to believe the brain was the only organ incapable of growing new cells—but in recent years, it’s become clear that the brain, too, can grow new neurons, in a process called neurogenesis. And what seems to spur the growth of new neurons, perhaps above other activities, is aerobic exercise. (Other things, like meditation and antidepressant medication, have also been shown to trigger brain new cell growth.) The area of the brain that seems most capable of growing new cells is the hippocampus, the seat of learning and memory. It’s also the area that’s known to “shrink” in depression, and particularly in dementia—so the fact that we may have some control over its health is exciting.
Helps treat depression, and prevent it
Studies have consistently shown that physical activity can help treat depression, and lack of exercise can have an adverse effect. The antidepressant effect of exercise seems to be moderated in part through serotonin, the brain chemical that’s targeted with some antidepressants, and in part through bone-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This goes back to the generation of new cells mentioned earlier—exercise, through various mechanisms, seems to make the brain more plastic and more capable of growing new cells.
When depressed, exercise can be the last thing one wants to do, which can be a barrier to treatment. As exercise lowers the risk of depression, building up from even a few minutes a day may help and may prevent depression from developing in the first place.
Reduces dementia risk
Studies show people who exercise are at a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. For those who start exercising relatively late in life, brain volume can actually increase over time, as can scores on memory tests, compared to people who don’t exercise (their brains shrunk over time, which is normal part of aging).
How much do excercise you really need?
Exercise has been shown to reduce not only the risk of diseases, but also the mortality risk that they confer. Researchers have pointed out that if people exercised more, this change could reduce a huge number of deaths worldwide—for instance, they’ve calculated that over half of all deaths from cancer might be prevented with regular exercise.
It may be best to start small and build up from there. Finding what feels right—a place that’s challenging but not painful—may be the best gauge of all.
“6 Ways Exercise Benefits The Body And Brain” Alice G. Walton , CONTRIBUTOR, Forbes.com, Retrieved 23 May 2017. <https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/05/23/6-ways-exercise-benefits-the-body-and-brain/#72f160e22503/>.
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