How Regular Exercise Benefits Your Brain

It’s fairly well known that research studies are finding that regular exercise absolutely benefits the brain, especially as we age. What we are still trying to determine is precisely how exercise helps counter the cognitive decline that comes with aging.

To find out, researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health have studied a unique group of middle-aged people at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s — 1,500 people who are cognitively normal, but have genes that put them at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, or have one or two parents who have been diagnosed with the disease.

The research team is trying to relate which biological processes change with exercise. In one study, these at-risk ‘middle agers’ were divided in two groups, those not physically active and those that were. All had their brains scanned to track Alzheimer’s-related brain changes including differences in how neurons metabolized glucose, since people with Alzheimer’s disease tend to break down glucose more slowly. At the end of the study period, the group that exercised more showed higher levels of glucose metabolism and performed better on cognitive-function tests compared to those who did not.

In previous work, the Wisconsin researchers identified a series of Alzheimer’s-related biological changes that seemed to be affected by exercise by comparing people who were more physically active to those who were not. In this study, they showed that intervening with an exercise regimen could actually affect these processes.

Collectively, this body of research is determining how physical activity contributes to significant changes in the biological processes in the brain that drive Alzheimer’s, and may even reduce the effect of strong risk factors such as age and genes linked to higher risk of neurodegenerative disease.

So what does this study mean to you? Brain scans of people who reported exercising at moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes a week, showed that age-related changes to the brain were significantly reduced over those who sporadically exercised or did not at all. The benefits of exercise in controlling Alzheimer’s processes was even stronger among those with genetic predisposition for the disease.

What about those that exercise even more? Studies show that people with higher aerobic fitness levels showed low amounts of white matter hyperintensities, which are signs of neuron degeneration. These show up as brighter spots on MRI images, hence the name. White matter hyperintensities tend to increase in the brain with age, and are more common in people with dementia or cognitive impairment.

So, exercise matters. A lot. This is confirmed by the National Institutes of Health. Exercise for your body’s fitness and your brain’s. It all contributes to aging gracefully and keeping your cognitive abilities going strong. If you are interested in knowing more about your brain, call INDY Neurofeedback to schedule a brain mapping.

What You Eat (and when) Dramatically Affects Your Brain Health

It may seem obvious to state that our brains need proper fuel to function effectively. We prove this to ourselves when we miss breakfast and find it hard to think clearly until we ingest some protein.

Protein is absorbed by our bodies and used by our brains, among other things, to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by our brain cells to communicate with each other. We make new neurotransmitters all the time so that we can pay attention, learn new skills, remember details, control our emotional reactions, and regulate mood.

At INDY Neurofeedback, we know that a well-balanced diet for our bodies will also significantly aid cognitive function and brain health.

Here’s how you can eat right for your brain:

When your stomach is empty, so is your brain. Starting off the day without eating protein sets the stage for impaired attention and concentration.

20 grams of protein must be consumed by lunch for effective brain function — with at least 10 grams ingested first thing in the morning.

A protein shake, a hard-boiled egg, Greek yogurt, bacon and cheese omelet, or organic peanut butter on whole wheat toast, all qualify.

If you eat a breakfast with no fat, little protein and a high glycemic index – such as sweetened cereal and milk or a bagel with fat free cream cheese — your blood sugar will skyrocket and you’ll get an energy boost. But – all too soon, your blood sugar level will crash, which triggers the release of stress hormones like adrenaline, that leave you feeling jittery, moody, and having difficulty concentrating.

When this is your child’s breakfast, no amount of medication, parenting, school intervention, or counseling will correct an attention problem that is caused by this nutritional deficiency. In a school classroom, this looks like ADHD to the teacher.

Proper nutrition is key to brain health as well as your family’s brain health. That’s why, at INDY Neurofeedback, we stress that healthy diets provide the building blocks for the brain to create and maintain neural connections.

Fad diets that dramatically reduce good and bad fats and carbs can actually be harmful to your brain! The best way to diet is to eat a balanced diet rather than completely cutting out (or dramatically reducing) important fats and carbs that your brain craves to function optimally.

Your brain needs lots of water to function effectively, too. Those eight, 8-ounce glasses of water you should consume daily help your brain think clearly every bit as much as it helps your digestion, circulation, elimination, and muscle health.

“Eat and drink wisely, for the sake of your entire body’s wellbeing,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback. “Eating healthily is as important to your brain’s effective performance as it is for your body’s. Make sure your diet is balanced with weekly servings of fish (the Omega-3 in fish is especially good for your brain health) and daily servings of brightly or darkly colored fruits and leafy vegetables.”

 

Diet & Exercise Might Reverse Aging in the Brain

Everyone knows that a healthy diet and plenty of exercise are the keys to good health and staving off early signs of aging. But did you know that those same health benefits can keep your brain healthy and youthful as well?

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have established that even among a group of people over 55 years who already showed signs of age-related thinking problems, exercising regularly while maintaining a healthy diet over six months improved their performance on cognitive tests.

The 160 people chosen for the study had cognitive skills similar to people in their 90’s, significantly older than they actually were. The volunteers were divided into four groups:

  • one group participated in an aerobic exercise program
  • another was assigned a low-sodium or Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet
  • a third was asked to exercise and change their diet at the same time, and
  • a fourth control group was provided educational sessions about how to improve their brain health.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the group that exercised and changed its diet at the same time showed the greatest improvements in cognitive tests after six months. The control group, however, showed a continued decline in their brain test scores, and there was no significant benefit from either exercise or change in diet alone.

We now have evidence that exercise and the diet together are better than dieting or exercise alone. The research also showed it is possible to improve senior neurocognitive function, and possibly even postpone development of dementia late in life.

“The bottom line is that it’s never too late to acquire brain and overall health benefits from exercise and better eating,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback.

“Researchers know that physical heart health, as well as how well blood circulates throughout the body and brain are tremendously important to retaining cognitive skills,” O’Neil continues. “That’s because our brains rely on oxygen–rich blood for fuel. In fact, our brains use more oxygen than any other organ in our bodies. Just another reason we incorporate the Heart Math program with all our clients.”