Chicago Health | Homepage
How exercise boosts brain function

How exercise boosts brain function

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts 

By Howard LeWine, M.D.

Q: I keep hearing that exercise helps with memory and other brain functions. What’s the connection? What types of exercise and how much do I need?

A: Exercise boosts your memory and thinking skills both directly and indirectly. It acts directly on the body by stimulating physiological changes such as reductions in insulin resistance and inflammation. Exercise also encourages production of growth factors — chemicals that affect the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance, survival and overall health of new brain cells.

It also acts directly on the brain itself. Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory are larger in volume in people who exercise than in people who don’t.

Exercise can also boost memory and thinking indirectly by improving mood and sleep, and by reducing stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.

Is one exercise better than another in terms of brain health? We don’t know the answer to this question, because most of the research so far has looked at walking. But it’s very likely that other types of aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping will yield similar benefits.

We also don’t know how much exercise is best for the brain. Aim for an initial goal of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking. More is likely better — perhaps working your way up to 45 to 60 minutes of dedicated exercise time most days of the week.

Based on the studies, the effects are not immediate. It takes about six months to see some of the cognitive benefits of regular exercise.

If aerobic exercise doesn’t suit you, consider tai chi. The slow focused movements require learning and memorizing new skills and movement patterns. Studies in older adults have shown tai chi can enhance executive function, which manages cognitive processes such as planning, working memory, attention, problem solving and verbal reasoning.

(Howard LeWine, M.D., is an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.)

(c) 2016 PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Similar Articles

Chicago Tech Start-up Spurs Weight Loss

Chicago Tech Start-up Spurs Weight Loss

By Tom Mullaney At the start of every new year, Americans’ number one resolution is to

Customized Coaching

Customized Coaching

Personalized wellness plans target health and fitness By Megy Karydes Often, a doctor will dole out a recommendation

Make your diet more nutrient-dense

Make your diet more nutrient-dense

Environmental Nutrition By Matthew Kadey, M.S., R.D., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter There is only so much food you

Gluten related symptoms: Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

Gluten related symptoms: Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts By Howard LeWine, M.D. Q: I seem to be very

Start treatment now to prevent spring allergy symptoms

Start treatment now to prevent spring allergy symptoms

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts By Howard LeWine, M.D. Q: I have spring allergies. Every

Articles By Category

Family Health

In The Know

CH Lifestyle

April 2017
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
March 26, 2017 March 27, 2017 March 28, 2017 March 29, 2017 March 30, 2017 March 31, 2017 April 1, 2017
April 2, 2017 April 3, 2017 April 4, 2017 April 5, 2017 April 6, 2017 April 7, 2017 April 8, 2017
April 9, 2017 April 10, 2017 April 11, 2017 April 12, 2017 April 13, 2017 April 14, 2017 April 15, 2017
April 16, 2017 April 17, 2017 April 18, 2017 April 19, 2017 April 20, 2017 April 21, 2017 April 22, 2017
April 23, 2017 April 24, 2017 April 25, 2017 April 26, 2017 April 27, 2017 April 28, 2017 April 29, 2017
April 30, 2017 May 1, 2017 May 2, 2017 May 3, 2017 May 4, 2017 May 5, 2017 May 6, 2017

Categories

Recent Comments

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

VIEW ARTICLE
Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

A Hazy Shade of Healthcare: What does tort reform

VIEW ARTICLE

Archives