Physical Exercise Keeps Your Mind Sharp

The emergence of the multibillion-dollar brain training industry, premised on the idea that you can improve your memory, attention and powers of reasoning through the right mental exercises, has spurned websites and software designed to increase your cognitive abilities. If you’re part of an older demographic, worried about your aging brain, you’ve perhaps been inclined to give those brain training programs a try. Even with the push, studies show no evidence to support the widely held belief that the regular use of computerized brain trainers improves general cognitive functioning in healthy participants.

A number of additional studies suggest that physical exercise–as opposed to mental exercise–can improve our cognitive abilities. One study led by Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois, found that children who regularly exercise, display substantial improvements in functioning and the ability to block out irrelevant information. Improved concentration and improved cognitive scores were also a benefit.

Children are not the only ones benefiting from increased exercise. A study of older adults who were also experiencing a mild degree of cognitive impairment found that resistance and aerobic training improved verbal and spatial memory, and that weight training decreased brain shrinkage, which occurs naturally with age.

So how does it work? Exercise triggers production of proteins that support the growth of brain cells and the development of new ones. As we age, proteins decline, which is one reason that brain function declines as we age. Exercise, namely aerobic, can counteract these age related protein drops a restore more youthful protein levels in the brain.

The encouraging take away from the studies suggest  that briskly walking for 20 or 25 minutes, a dose of exercise achievable by almost all of us — may help to keep our brains sharp as years pass.