Exercise and the Brain

The positive effects of aerobic exercise are particularly well known in the field of aging with individuals who normally exercise outperforming those who do not on tasks as varied as dual-task performance, executive attention or distractor rejection (for recent reviews see Colcombe and Kramer, 2003Hillman et al., 2008; Kramer and Erickson, 2007). [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2992973/]

Studies: aerobic exercise may help preserve mental function that could decline with aging. Benefits are associated with long-term exercise (as opposed to brief episodes of only several months duration). (Howard, Pierce J., PhD. The Owner’s Manual for the Brain. p 158-159. GA: Bard Press, 1994, 2000.)

Refer to Aging and the Brain for additional information.

Study at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center (716 dementia-free volunteers, average age of 82): one's level of activity can impact the risk for developing Alzheimer's--even in people in their 80s. Individuals in the bottom 10% of intensity of physical activity were 2.8 times as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease compared to those in the top 10%. An actigraph, a watch-sized device worn on the wrist, was used to measure physical activity. Interestingly, much of the recorded movements came from regular activities of daily living rather than formal exercise. The bottom line? Stay active! (Source)

Longitudinal study in eastern Finland started in 1970s: Of the 2000 people in the study, 76 had Alzheimer’s disease in 1998. Those who had been physically active in midlife (e.g., leisure-time physical activity that lasts at least 20-30 minutes and causes breathlessness and sweating) were less likely to have Alzheimer’s and other dementia. (Fields, Helen (writer). U S News and World Report. Reported October, 2005.)

Study of nearly 5,000 men and women over 65 years of age: those who exercised were less likely to lose their mental abilities or develop dementia, including Alzheimer's.

A five-year study at the Laval University in Sainte-Foy, Quebec suggests that the more a person exercises the greater the protective benefits for the brain, particularly in women. (The Franklin Institute.)

Exercise helps the brain to “boot up” efficiently (e.g., raises serotonin levels, increases resilience to stress; decreases hydrocortisone levels). (Guiffre, Kenneth, MD. The Care and Feeding of Your Brain. p 42. NJ:The Career Press, 1999.)

Appropriate brain development requires active physical involvement with the environment. (Healy, Jane M., PhD. Your Child’s GrowingMind. p 22-24. NY:Doubleday, 1987, 1989.)

Almost any physical exercise can improve the brain’s performance but some are better than others (e.g., strengthen cerebellum functions). Desirable physical exercise to strengthen brain performance includes three key concepts: balance, strength in the legs, and dexterity. (Restak, Richard, MD. Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot. p 184-186. NY:Harmony Books, 2001.)

Regular physical exercise and an increase in intellectual activities seem to offer protection against developing Alzheimer’s disease. Offers specific suggestions for building up leg muscular strength as important for brain health. (Restak, Richard, MD. Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot. NY: Harmony Books, 2001, pp 185-186)

Exercise gives the brain many of the things it needs to function at full power. It is known to raise baseline serotonin levels, decrease the amount of hydrocortisone (e.g., in excess it can shrink brain mass through cell death), improve blood flow, and bring the brain into an awake state. (Giuffre, Kenneth, MD., with Teresa Foy DiGeronimo. The Care and Feeding of Your Brain. NJ: Career Press, 1999, pp 235-236)

Exercise has been shown to:

  • Strengthen your cardiovascular system
  • Help regulate glucose and insulin
  • Help to fight obesity
  • Combat stress by dissipating cortisol
  • Improve mood
  • Boost immune system function
  • Strengthen bones
  • Boost motivation
  • Foster neuroplasticity

(Ratey, John J. MD, and Eric Hagerman. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. NY:Little, Brown and Company, 2008.)

Exercise increases levels of l-tryptophan in the brain, a relatively small amino acid that raises serotonin levels. Exercise can increase energy levels and distract you from looping bad thoughts. (Amen, Daniel G., MD. Change Your Brain Change Your Life. p 184-186. NY:Times Books, 1998.)

Physical exercise (e.g., aerobic or yoga-type stretching) increases blood flow to the frontal cortex, raises levels of free-radical fighters, and triggers the growth of dendrites. (Carper, Jean. Your Miracle Brain. p 35-36. NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2000.

Refer to Care of the Brain for additional information.

Substances that have accumulated in the brain can be released and washed away through exercise and proper breathing. (Pert, Candace, PhD. Your Body is Your Subconscious Mind (audiocassettes). CO: Sounds True, 2000.)

Caffeine is a mild diuretic. It tends not to affect water replacement in habitual caffeine users, however. Consequently, caffeinated beverages may be ingested during the day by non-caffeine-naïve athletes. (Casa, D. J, et al. American College of Sports Medicine Roundtable on Hydration and Physical Activity: Consensus Statements. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2005: 4:115-117.)

A male’s capacity for exercise drops 10% for every 10 years of age after the age of 20. A female’s capacity to exercise drops 2% for every 10 years of age after 20. (Stump, Jane Barr, PhD. What’s the Difference? p 17, 93. NY:William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1985.)

At 55 a man has only 70% of the capacity to exercise that he had at 25. A 55 year-old-woman’s capacity for exercise is reduced by only 10% of her capacity at age 25. (Stump, Jane Barr, PhD. What’s the Difference? p 76.NY:William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1985.)

The most important value of exercise is to stimulate and cleanse the bodymind. Suggests combining exercise with other enjoyable activities (listening to music via headphones). Conscious breathing combined with physical awareness and relaxation can enhance energy levels and stimulate production of “feel-good” peptides (e.g., endorphins). (Pert, Candace, PhD. Your Body is Your Subconscious Mind (audiocassettes). CO: Sounds True, 2000.)

Studies have shown that physical exercise beyond 42.5 minutes can have a negative response on cortisol levels. Knowing this, exercise for only 40 minutes at a time. If you want to do more, wait at least 20 minutes before restarting exercise. (Borkin, Michael, PhD. Sabre Sciences, Inc(TM). Lecture, January 2014)

Individuals who are aerobically fit may also have an intellectual edge. Exercise can improve creativity, concentration, and problem-solving abilities. (Bricklin, Mark, et al. Positive Living and Health. p 25-26. PA: Rodale Press, 1990.)

The eight best ways to exercise your brain include:

  • Develop personal faith, equivalent with hope, optimism, and belief that a positive future awaits you
  • Dialogue with others, as the most social ties you have the less your cognitive abilities will decline
  • Engage in aerobic energy as it strengthens every part of the brain and body and will likely lengthen our life
  • Meditation and visualization are effective in helping you to maintain a healthy brain
  • Yawn frequently. It is a powerful neural-enhancing tool in areas of the brain directly involved in generating social awareness and creating feelings of empathy
  • Relax consciously. It helps to interrupt the brain’s release of stress-stimulating neurochemicals.
  • Stay intellectually active (use it or lose it). This strengthens the neural connections throughout your frontal lobes.
  • Smile frequently. It helps to strengthen the brain’s neural ability to maintain a positive outlook on life and helps to interrupt mood disorders.

(Newberg, Andrew, MD, and Mark Robert Waldman. How God Changes Your Brain—Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. pp 151-165. NY:Ballantine Books, 2009.)

Indicates that regular and sustained physical activity (e.g., walking, playing) is required for optimal function of emotional portions of the brain. (Hartmann, Thom. The Edison Gene. p 129-131. VT: Park Street Press, 2003.)

Refer to Emotions and Feelings for additional information.

Exercise triggers the release of endorphins (endogenous morphine) in the brain. (Lombard, Jay, Dr., and Dr. Christian Renna. Balance Your Brain, Balance Your life. p 194-195.NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2004.)

Exercise gives the body an opportunity to restore subtle patterns of functioning. It can reverse previous effects of entropy. (Chopra, Deepak, MD. Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. p 124-130. NY: Harmony Books, 1993.)

Study: moderate conditioned laughter and moderate conditioned exercise both help to create a state of eustress, defined as desirable stress. Printed in an interview with Dr. Lee S. Berk. (Dunn, Joseph R., PhD, Ed. New Discoveries in Psychoneuroimmunology Humor & Health Letter, Vol III. No 6, p 2. Nov/Dec 1994, MS.)

A recent study from Northumbria University, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, reported that people lost 20 percent more fat when they exercised before eating breakfast. (Gameau, Damon. The Sugar Book. P. 149. NY:Flatiron Books, 2015)

Walking, according to Thomas Frieden, MD MPH, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “may be the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.” A 15- minute walk can reduce cravings and the intake of a variety of sugary snacks. An American Cancer Society study found that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week. Harvard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in over 12,000 people to determine how much these genes actually contribute to body weight. They found that study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day cut the effects of 32 obesity-promoting genes in half. Study participants who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. Walking 5-6 miles a week can help protect knee and hip joints (most susceptible to osteoarthritis) by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them. (Harvard Medical School <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>)

Engaging in 20 minutes of mild aerobic exercise at the beginning of the day can turn on fat-burning neuropeptides, the effects of which can last for hours. (Pert, Candace, PhD. Molecules of Emotion. p 321. NY:Scribner, 1997.)

Refer to Nutrition and the Brain for additional information.

More women (18 million) participate in aerobic exercising as compared to men (3.2 million). (Weiss, Daniel Evan. Great Divide: How Females and Males Really Differ. p 170. NY: Poseidon Press, 1991.)

Studies from four Universities: Researchers have discovered a possible connection between dysfunction of the dentate gyrus and poor glucose regulation. This may explain earlier observations that exercise benefits the dentate gyrus. Until now, scientists believed that physical activity reduced the risk of age-related memory loss by allowing glucose to be absorbed more quickly into muscle cells, but were not sure why. (Lite, Jordan. Exercise and your brain: Why working out may help memory. Scientific American, 2008.)

Study over 9 of 575 paired brothers (1 remained in Ireland, 1 moved to United States): Rate of heart attack was higher in the United States. The amount of exercise was the only factor that was consistently different. (Conway, Jim and Sally. Women In Midlife Crisis. p 357-358. IL:Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1971.)

The value of exercise has less to do with building muscles or burning calories and more to do with getting the heart to pump faster and more efficiently and thereby increase blood flow to nourish and cleanse the brain and body organs. Exercise that breaks a sweat tends to improve mood through release of endorphins (and other as-yet-to-be-discovered peptides). (Pert, Candace, PhD. Molecules of Emotion. p 296. NY: Scribner, 1997.)

Studies by Dr. William Fry, Jr: 20 seconds of laughter can double the heart rate for 3-5 minutes. This effect is equal to 3 minutes of strenuous rowing. (Cousins, Norman, MD (honorary). Head First.p 130-138. NY:Penguin Books, 1989.)

Studies by William Fry, MD, psychiatrist at Stanford Medical School: 20 seconds of laughter is the cardiovascular equivalent of 3 minutes of hard rowing, and can double the heart rate for 3-5 minutes. Provides benefits similar to those of jogging. (Hafen, Brent Q., et al. Mind/Body Health. p 550-560. MA:Simon & Schuster, 1996.)

Refer to Laughter – Humor and the Brain for additional information.

Refer to Learning and the Brain for additional information.

A male’s capacity for exercise drops 10% for every 10 years of age after the age of 20. A female’s capacity to exercise drops 2% for every 10 years of age after 20. (Stump, Jane Barr, PhD. What’s the Difference? p 17, 93. NY:William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1985.)

Refer to Gender Differences for additional information.

Exercising the brain is like exercising the body. You don’t grow new muscles, you just keep the ones you have in better shape. The same holds true for spiritual development. If you want to excel, keep practicing, and you will continue to have spiritual beliefs. Without practice, you’ll probably become more secular. Adults tend to become less religious around age 30; by age 60 they tend to pray half as much and have less certainty (about 50 percent) that God exists. Beginning around age 50, however, there is an increase in organized religious activities which provide older individuals with essential social connections. This, in turn, tends to enhance health and extend life. (Levenson, M.R., et al. “Religious development from adolescence to middle adulthood.” Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. NY: Guilford, 2005)

Most loss of mental capacity happens to the very old and is related more to lack of exercise, drug interactions, depression, or other reversible conditions. Consequently, senility isn’t really a “disease” per se; more like a preventable condition. (Dychtwald, Ken, PhD, and Joe Flower. Age Wave. p 37-40. NY:St. Martin’s Press, 1989.)

Playing musical instruments uses a wide range of muscular responses (as does singing, dancing, or marching). Musical options to improve motor skills include:

  • Marching and dancing for the development of gross motor functions
  • Playing piano and guitar for development or rapid motor sequencing abilities
  • Playing the trombone for the use of large limb muscles
  • Playing flute for the use of fine motor functions

(Harris, Maureen. Music and the Young Mind. p 5. NY: MENC with Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2009.)

Refer to Music and the Brain for additional information.

There are three necessary components of neurobic exercises. To be neurobic they must: involve one or more sense in a novel context, engage your attention, break a routine activity in an unexpected and nontrivial way. (Katz, Lawrence C., PhD and Manning Rubin. Keep Your Brain Alive. p 33-34. NY: Workman Publishing Company, Inc., 1999.)

Aerobic exercise helps to increase the production of neurotrophins (nerve growth factor) that stimulate the growth of nerve cells (e.g., stimulate new synapses, support growth of the myelin sheath). (Howard, Pierce J., PhD. The Owner’s Manual for The Brain. p 156-158. GA: Bard Press, 1994, 2000.)

Studies of cutting-edge nutritional research worldwide in a new medical specialty known as nutritional neuroscience: Micronutrients, vitamins, food supplements, and other lifestyle factors can be utilized to increase brain power, achieve and maintain a happy state of mind, and prevent/reverse brain deterioration related to aging or neurological diseases. (Carper, Jean. Your Miracle Brain. pxix. NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.)

Good levels of oxygen in the blood can positively impact brain power. 20% of the blood flow from the heart goes to the brain. Exercise can help blood flow. (Padus, Emrika, et al. The Complete Guide to Your Emotions & Your Health. p 25-28. PA:Rodale Press, 1992.)

Three basic types of physical activity can help people to retard the onset of aging: general physical activity, stamina-building activities, and strength and flexibility exercises. Exercise burns energy and reduces stress levels. (Roizen, Michael R., MD. Real Age. p 211, 262. NY:Cliff Street Books, 1999.)

Studies at Stanford University School of Medicine pf the benefits of brain breaks (mental inactivity): participants recalled 25% more information when taking a 3-hour memory training course when they relaxed every muscle in the body prior to taking the exam. (Greenwood-Robinson, Maggie, PhD. 20/20 Thinking. p 126. NY:Avery, Putnam Special Markets, 2003.)

Endorphins, responsible for the runner’s high, are stimulated by physical exercise. (Hartmann, Thom. The Edison Gene. p 129-130. VT:Park Street Press, 2003.)

Exercise is known to raise baseline serotonin levels in the brain, which helps to decrease depression and improve sleep patterns and concentration. (Giuffre, Kenneth, MD., with Teresa Foy DiGeronimo. The Care and Feeding of Your Brain. p 42-43. NJ: Career Press, 1999.)

In addition to strengthening the heart and bolstering the immune system, exercise boosts energy, relieves stress, and improves sleep. (O’Brien, Mary, MD. Successful Aging. p 61. CA: Biomed General. 2007.)

Studies of vibroacousitic therapy: being surrounded by speakers and vibrators can be therapeutic (e.g., can alleviate symptoms of arthritis, and relax skies/runners after the event). (Howard, Pierce J., PhD. The Owner’s Manual for the Brain. p 188-189. GA:Bard Press, 1994, 2000.)

Studies: exercise is a good sugar stabilizer. It can bring high blood sugar levels down, and low levels up. Regular exercise helps your body handle glucose more efficiently. (Padus, Emrika, et al. The Complete Guide to Your Emotions & Your Health. p 542-544. PA:Rodale Press, 1992.)

Studies: of strenuous work. Women have to exercise harder than men to accomplish the same amount and recover more slowly than men (recovery is process by which body returns to resting levels after physical work). (Baker, Mary Anne, ed. Sex Differences in Human Performance. p 115. NY:John Wiley & Sons, 1987.)

Aerobic exercise helps to dissipate cortisol that is released during stress (although very high levels of stress may nullify some of the beneficial effects). Suggests exercise after the most stressful part of the day is over and/or again after a stressful episode. (Howard, Pierce J., PhD. The Owner’s Manual for The Brain. p 193-200. GA:Bard Press, 1994, 2000.)

Testosterone levels in males dramatically increase with a vigorous exercise workout; even more so after a competitive nonaerobic workout (e.g., handball as compared to brisk walking). Levels do not appear to increase in women who perform similar activities. (Howard, Pierce J., PhD. The Owner’s Manual for The Brain. p 163. GA:Bard Press, 1994, 2000.)

Walking as exercise provides many benefits, including: increases oxygen flow to the brain, triggers the release of brain chemicals that can enhance creativity, and stimulates the right cerebral hemisphere. (Greenwood-Robinson, Maggie, PhD. 20/20 Thinking. p 365. NY: Avery, Putnam Special Markets, 2003.)

A body water deficit of great then 2% of body weight marks the level of dehydration that can adversely impact performance. When exercise begins in a euhydrated state, the difference between pre- and post-activity body weight is a reasonable estimate of acute body water losses and provides an estimate of the volume of fluid replacement needed to approximate euhydration. (Casa, D. J, et al. American College of Sports Medicine Roundtable on Hydration and Physical Activity: Consensus Statements. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2005: 4:115-117.)

For inactive people in temperate climates, daily water needs are as small as 1000 to 2000 ml. For most moderately active individual, daily water needs are 3000 to 5000 ml. Extended intense exercise can increase the need to 10,000 ml. During exercise, sweat loss commonly ranges from 500 to 2000 ml per hour. Additional water loss occurs through the lungs in breathing and urine. In athletes, clinical symptoms (e.g., thirst, dizziness, headache, tachycardia, oral mucosal surface moisture) should be address but are too imprecise to assess hydration accurately. During activities of long-duration, athletes should replace fluids during the activity in order to limit their fluid deficit to less than 2% of euhydrated body weight. (Casa, D. J, et al. American College of Sports Medicine Roundtable on Hydration and Physical Activity: Consensus Statements. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2005: 4:115-117.)

Normal water and food intake are usually sufficient to restore normal hydration when exercise sessions are more than 24 hours apart. Rehydration within six hours of exercise requires 125-150% of water lost during exercise to make up not only for water loss but also for normal fluid needs and normal urination. For rehydration, 2000 ml consumed in 500 ml amounts every 20-30 minutes tends to be more effective than consuming the entire 2000 ml at one time. (Casa, D. J, et al. American College of Sports Medicine Roundtable on Hydration and Physical Activity: Consensus Statements. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2005: 4:115-117.)

Kids need 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Make exercise a family outing. Go on walks, hikes, or bike rides together. Eat together. Studies showed that children who shared three or more family meals a week were 20% less likely to eat unhealthy foods and 12% less likely to be overweight. Dieting isn’t the answer when it comes to weight loss for kids. Learn to avoid crash diets and unhealthy habits when your doctor suggests safe weight loss. One study found that children were much more likely to lose weight when their parents also slimmed down. (http://www.webmd.com/parenting/raising-fit-kids/weight/safe-weight-loss?page=1)

Based on the present literature, unless the overall volume of aerobic exercise training is very high, clinically significant weight loss is unlikely to occur. Also, exercise training also has an important role in weight regain after initial weight loss. Overall, aerobic exercise training programs consistent with public health recommendations may promote up to modest weight loss (~2 kg), however the weight loss on an individual level is highly heterogeneous. Clinicians should educate their patients on reasonable expectations of weight loss based on their physical activity program and emphasize that numerous health benefits occur from physical activity programs in the absence of weight loss. (http://www.onlinepcd.com/article/S0033-0620(13)00165-5/abstract?cc=y=)

In terms of maintaining a desirable weight, evidence is beginning to accumulate that dietary intake may be more important than energy expenditure level. Decreased physical activity may not be the primary driver of the obesity epidemic. Weight loss is not likely to happen without dietary restraint. (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/28524942/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/diet-not-exercise-plays-key-role-weight-loss/#.V87iP4WcGM8)

Exercise has a big upside for health but that doesn’t seem to necessarily apply to weight loss. While exercise is beneficial for numerous reasons, it's not the best way to lose weight. When it comes to reaching a healthy weight, what you don’t eat is much more important than an excessive emphasis on exercise (e.g., 30 minutes of jogging or swimming laps might burn off 350 calories or you could achieve the same calorie reduction by eliminating two 16-ounce sodas each day. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/upshot/to-lose-weight-eating-less-is-far-more-important-than-exercising-more.html?_r=0)

Exercise alone does not seem to produce weight loss. Although aerobic training does burn calories, it is nowhere near as effective for weight loss as simply eating fewer calories. It takes a solid 30 minutes of running on a treadmill to burn 300 calories, whereas it takes you less than 30 seconds to eat a 300 calorie chocolate bar. (http://graemethomasonline.com/the-role-of-exercise-in-weight-loss-part-2/)

Studies: To obtain good weight-loss benefit from exercise requires a minimum of three 30-minutes session of uninterrupted aerobic exercise each week. It may require more than this to really impact weight loss. (Bost, Brent W., MD, FACOG. Hurried Woman Syndrome.p 79. NY: Vantage Press, 2001.)

Did you know that physical exercise may be the closest thing to a wonder drug that self-control scientists have discovered? Fifteen minutes on a treadmill reduces cravings (e.g., seen when researchers try to tempt dieters with chocolate and smokers with cigarettes). According to Kelly McGonigal PhD, author of The Willpower Instinct, the long-terms effects of physical exercises are even more impressive: it relieves everyday stress; is as powerful an antidepressant as Prozac; enhances the biology of selfcontrol by increasing baseline heart rate variability and training the brain; and can increase both gray matter and white matter in the brain. There's no scientific consensus on the amounts needed, however. A 2010 analysis of ten different studies showed that the largest mood-boosting and stress-reducing effects came from five-minute doses of exercise rather than hour-long sessions. (McGonigal, Kelly, PhD.  The Willpower Instinct. p 42. NY: Avery, 2012.

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