Benefits of Exercise
BENEFITS OF EXERCISE FOR OUR BRAIN AND BEYOND
We all know that exercise is good for our health. It is well known that exercise can:
- Decrease stress hormones
- Increase ‘feel good’ chemicals
- Reduce fatigue
- Offer social benefits
- Support normal insulin and blood sugar responses
- Maintain healthy weight
- Improve general physical health, decreases risk of chronic diseases
- Promote normal heart function*
These are all factors vital for good health and longevity, but the benefits of exercise don’t stop there. Recent studies have looked into the benefits of exercise on our brain– specifically behavioural and cognitive function. There is more than enough evidence to encourage regular exercise for everyone – regardless of age, health or ability – to support good physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Over the last 20 years many studies on the physical and psychological benefits of exercise have been conducted. In summary they have found that exercise (of varying types and duration) improves behaviour, cognitive and functional responses. People who exercise have a lower risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders, anxiety and depression; they will also reap the benefits of improving the efficiency of energy production in the mitochondria, the function of enzymes and metabolism – overall improving the function and survival of cells throughout the whole body.**
Studies have found that children and adolescents that do just 12 minutes of acute aerobic exercise (70-80% of maximum heart rate) showed improvements in visual attention and better reading comprehension for a period of 45 minutes post exercise***. This particular study was very interesting as it showed that a simple, inexpensive intervention that could easily take place before classes improved the ability of students to get more out of each lesson, the impact of this on the children’s future could prove to be quite profound.
Other studies have looked at the benefits of exercise on both working memory (the amount we can retain at any one time) and long term memory. While there are mixed reports, it looks like acute exercise has the ability to improve cognitive function and behaviour, while exercises like yoga may improve the performance of our working memory.***
Continuing on with more gentle exercises, a small study on elderly patients with anxiety, found that Tai Chi plus medication was more effective at managing the disorder than medication alone. What’s more, the people in the Tai Chi group were much less likely (9% vs. 43%) to suffer only recurrence of anxiety*****.
With all of these benefits you would expect everyone to be exercising regularly, yet only 50% of NZ adults do. Getting regular exercise doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive, you just need to find activities you enjoy and move at every opportunity. The most benefit is gained from regular exercise – that’s 5 or more days per week. Aim for a 30 minute duration but start by moving for as long as you can. If your fitness level is low start by walking on a flat level or swim. As you progress add in some hills, increase the pace and duration until you get to 30 minutes. Be sure to mix it up – include some cardio/aerobic exercise, weights, stretching as well as calming activities such as restorative yoga.
Don’t forget: every little bit counts – here are 10 ways to get incidental exercise every day:
- Use the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator - they’re usually less busy too!
- Park your car at the far end of the car park
- Pop over to your colleagues desk rather than sending them an email or calling them
- Do the housework to your favourite music and break out a few dance moves in between dusting
- Use the printer furthest from your desk - even better, one on a different floor
- Encourage your colleagues to partake in walking meetings
- Only 2 bags from the grocery store? Carry them rather than taking the trolley to your car
- Do walking lunges each time you walk down your hallway at home
- See how many wall squats you can do while talking on your mobile or cordless phone
- Move during the TV ad breaks - water the plants, make your lunch, pack your bag for the gym in the morning, you’ll be exercising as well as getting organised!
So while we may not all be able to complete an ultra marathon there is always some form of physical movement that can be achieved that will provide some benefit, meaning there are no excuses for being sedentary. Hop to it!
- Scott, E ‘Exercise and Stress Relief: Using Exercise as a Stress Management Tool Stress and Exercise: Look Better, Feel Better’, October 20 2008, About.com Guide, Available: http://stress.about.com/od/programsandpractices/a/exercise.htm
- Deslandes A ‘Exercise and mental health: what did we learn in the last 20 years?’, Frontiers in Psychiatry, June 2014, Vol.5:66
- Tine M ‘Acute aerobic exercise: an intervention for the selective visual attention and reading comprehension of low-income adolescents’, Frontiers in Psychology, June 2014, Vo.5:575
- Li L, Men W, Chang Y, Fan M, Ji L, Wei G ‘Acute aerobic exercise increases cortical activity during working memory: a functional MRI study in female college students’, PLOS ONE, June 2014, Vol.9(6)
- Song Q, Shen G, Xu R, Zhan Q, Ma M, Guo Y, Zhao X, Han Y ‘Effect of Tai Chi exercise on the physical and mental health of the elder patients suffered from anxiety disorder’, International Journal of Physiology, Pathophysiology and Pharmacology, 2014;6(1):55-60
- NZ Ministry of Health documents: ‘A Portrait of Health: Key Results from the 2006/2007 New Zealand Health Survey’ and ‘Tracking the Obesity Epidemic: New Zealand 1977-2003’