Nutrition and dietetics research: The effects of exercise on the human brain

By: Mickalyn E. Frahm

Most often when people hear the words “exercise” and “effects” in the same sentence, they think of all of the effects it can have on ones body and image. While exercise has a variety of health benefits to ones body, people don’t quite grasp the major importance of exercise and the many positive effects it has on the human brain. While most studies show the positive health outcomes on the body and a more positive quality of living, it quite doesn’t help explain the effects it has on the brain. Exercise can not only improve cognition, but can be an underlying factor in helping those whom are suffering from mental health illnesses like depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, and several other mental health illnesses.

According to an article by neuroscientist professors Charles H. Hillman and Kirk I. Erickson, exercise can be one of the most important components of brain restoration and protection. Exercise is one of the major components in restoring brain activity, which helps slow the process of memory loss and dementia. Exercise is a very important key factor in help protecting one’s memory as well as one’s thinking and learning skills. A study done by Harvard medical students showed that it only takes two hours of moderate exercise (for example walking) per week to help improve memory.

Not only does exercise help improve memory skills, it is also an important factor for developing brains. Multiple studies have shown that when children are more active at a young age and continue to be through teen years that their brain function and cognition begin to advance at a quick rate. The same studies have also shown the relationship between taking time away from academic learning to more time spent enduring physical activity, which showed the same rate of brain activity if not more areas which were being stimulated. These studies showed the effects of physical activity in children’s academic scores and learning rates in which they turned out to be higher than those children who chose not to participate or who aren’t as active as the other children. The more that children are active, the more the hippocampus is stimulated which helps improve learning and memory functions.

Not only does physical activity help children with growing brains, but also adults whom brains are fully developed if not losing some brain function. A study by Louis Bherer and Kirk I. Erickson show that exercise is used as an intervention without pharmaceuticals with older adults who have memory impairments, and for those who perform exercises have seen a dramatic change in brain activity and memory recoverance. Another study shows that it is much harder to learn new things as an adult when one’s brain is fully developed but someone who is physically active is more prone to retaining more information than those who are physically inactive.

Exercise not only enhances the brain, it also protects its many functions. As stated before, it protects memory but most importantly it can protect the millions of neurons needed to keep the brain alive. Exercise protect certain special neurons which help the brain’s plasticity. These certain neurons which help protect and enhance neuroplasticity also protect motor, sensory, and cognitive skills. Exercise also helps promote neurogenesis, which is the reproduction of neurons and brain cells.

Multiple studies have shown the numerous positive effects of exercise has on the brain. Whether it be protection or enhancement, exercise is a very important factor in helping many different parts of the brain. Exercise and the effects it has on the human brain continue to show multiple positive outcomes and can be one of the most effective treatments for enhancing and protecting the brain.

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