Brain Gains

Many of us are in the gym to improve how we look and feel. We can look in the mirror and see the progress! While we’re in there burning fat and building muscle, we’re not only improving our bodies, but our minds as well!

A recent study has shown the link between habitual low to moderate intensity aerobic exercise and mental cognition as well as protection against alzheimer’s disease!

Here’s the science:

Most of the human body is designed to be able to repair itself (to some extent). While the rest of the body is able to recover from trauma and injuries, the central nervous system that includes the brain and spinal cord can not. This is why brain and spinal cord injuries are so devastating; the nerves and neurons in the spinal cord MUST last us our lifetimes.

While stem cell transplants have been shown to be effective in repairing damaged brain and spine cells, there haven’t been many answers to treating nervous system diseases and injuries.

A study done in 2016 (Nokia MS et al) examining the effects of aerobic exercise on brain health made some remarkable discoveries! They found that in response to an 8 week aerobic training regimen, adult hippocampal neurogenesis in rats increased greatly and the number of neurons present in their hippocampi nearly doubled!

This probably sounds like some sort of pseudoscience but let me break it down. The hippocampus is the region of the brain that is involved in converting short term memory to long term memory. It is also the area that when damaged can cause alzheimer’s disease. Neurons are the working cells in your brain and neurogenesis is the creation of new neurons!

What this study showed is that in response to an 8 week aerobic exercise program, our hippocampus has the ability to double the number of working cells! This is huge as it can be applied to people young and old! It is both protective and performance enhancing.

The take home messages:

  1. Aerobic exercise (60 min/day) will increase your brain’s neuron density, improving mental cognition and long term memory.

  2. Daily aerobic exercise is EXTREMELY effective at protecting against alzheimer’s by enhancing the replacement of damaged neurons in the brain, something that NO OTHER drug or treatment has been able to do!

  3. Exercise is MORE than just improving your body and how you look, it might be more important in improving your brain and how you think!

  4. For all the guys (myself included) that avoid cardio at all costs, this should be the benefit that will get you off of the bench press and onto the treadmill!

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