Dr-Jack-Rutherford

Dr. Jack Rutherford

Of course by now you know that that regular exercise is good for your body, but it also helps your brain. Specifically, it helps the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory. As we age, the hippocampus shrinks approximately 1 to 2 percent per year after age 55, so it is important to do what we can to slow down or even halt the rate of decline. The great thing about physical exercise is that can actually increase the size of your hippocampus, just as it does with your muscles.

Since all exercises are not created equal, an important question is which exercise is best for your brain? The results of a February 2016 study suggest that regular aerobic exercise may give your brain the best boost. The study, conducted at a university in Finland, compared the benefits of strength training with interval training and long-distance running. They had rats perform the exercise, but first injected their brains with a chemical that highlights new brain cells. 

The resistance-training rodents had small weights attached to their tails while they climbed a wall. The interval-training rats alternated between fast and slow-paced sprints on a tiny treadmill. Finally, the distance-running rodents jogged at a moderate pace daily on wheels placed in their cages.

Seven weeks later, the results showed that the jogging rats had the highest level of new brain cells, a process scientists call neurogenesis. The strength-training rodents had the second best results, while the interval-training rats had the lowest level of neurogenesis. Researchers hypothesized that interval workouts were more stressful both physically and mentally, and so the stress tends to decrease neurogenesis in the brain. 

“This is an innovative study because it’s the first to compare three different kinds of exercises,” said Teresa Liu-Ambrose of the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute affiliated with the University of British Columbia. “But the bigger message is that again and again, large-population studies show people who are physically active on a regular basis have a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s because exercise reduces inflammation while promoting cell growth and vascular health in the brain.”

So there it is. Regular exercise is not only one of the best things you can do for your body, but moderate aerobic exercise such as jogging, walking briskly, swimming or biking will benefit your brain big time. 

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