Like most people, my brain wasn’t always the first thing on my mind. At age 22 doctors diagnosed me with a brain tumor. Seven years later, my dad suffered a brain hemorrhage that left him severely disabled. These two experiences have changed the way I think about brain health. Now I strive to keep both my body and brain well.
There are many ways to improve your brain health. One way we don’t always think of is by keeping fit. When we exercise our bodies, our brains grow healthier too.
Exercise Increases Your Brain’s Fertilizer
BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is a powerful chemical that helps the brain grow and repair itself. High levels of BDNF in the brain have been connected to lower levels of dementia, better memory, and improved mental health. Exercise is one way to increase BDNF in the brain.
Working Out Can Help Prevent Brain Shrinkage
As we age it is normal for our brains to lose some of its cells. This is what causes the normal changes of aging such as slower reflexes, vision and hearing loss, and memory lapses. But studies show that exercise can increase grey matter, which is located in parts of the brain that are important for muscle control, decision making, self-control seeing, hearing, and speech.
Get Fit to Improve Your Memory
Scientists found that those who did exercise prior to a memory test did better than those who didn’t. They also found better connections in the hippocampus of participants who did just 10 minutes of exercise. This is the part of the brain that forms and stores memories.
Aerobic Exercise Sharpens Your Focus
School children who broke up the day with 20-minute aerobic exercise breaks had better attention spans. Children who participated in after-school sports were better at staying on task, multitasking, ignoring interruptions, and solving problems in their head.
Yoga Can Reduce Your Stress Response
Your body sometimes feels like it’s reacting on its own to stress and anxiety. The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for reacting with this fight-or-flight response. But studies have shown the amygdala grew smaller in those who participated in eight-week daily yoga, meditation, and stress reduction trial. Participants also reported less stress.
Catherine Lanser is writing a memoir about her brain tumor and her father’s stroke and how it changed the way she saw as the youngest of nine children. To learn more visit www.catherinelanser.com.