Why exercise is good for your brain as well as your body

Exercise benefits for mind and body

“Physically inactive people have an 80% higher risk of dementia, so the message for all Australians is to get moving!”

Exercise is one of the best medicines available and its health benefits are indisputable. There is conclusive evidence that physical inactivity increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, diabetes and depression. All of these are risk factors for dementia, and yet still Australia is among the world’s least physically active nations.

Not only does physical exercise assist to improve mood and quality of life, it will also help you to live longer. Regular exercise has direct positive effects on brain function, being linked to improved cognitive performance (memory and thinking ability). It is true that what is good for the heart is good for the brain and importantly, exercise can correct other risk factors associated with cognitive decline by improving fitness and muscle mass, reducing obesity, risk of falls and blood pressure and controlling diabetes.

Like the heart, the brain is adversely affected by high levels of blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Exercise also improves mood, helps combat depression and makes bones and muscles stronger. Research studies provide evidence that the more people engage in physical activity and exercise the greater the protective benefit. Importantly, it is never too late to start exercising; it has been shown to improve cognitive function in people with mild cognitive impairment and dementia as well as promote the formation of new nerve cells.

One study of people aged 70 and older who were randomly assigned to an exercise program had an increase in the short-term memory part of the brain, while those assigned to no exercise had the expected reduction in brain volume on MRI scans. A combination of weights or strength training and aerobic exercise such as vigorous walking, swimming or cycling appears best. For many people, exercising with friends or in a group helps with motivation and offers the bonus of socialising, also linked to better cognitive health.

More exercise is generally better, with the minimum recommended amount being 30 minutes, five days a week. You should be puffed and sweaty afterwards. CHeBA’s  is passionate about the link between physical activity and brain health, and the Wipeout Dementia campaign designed to promote this has engaged surfers up to 82 years old!

With a recent analysis showing that physically inactive individuals have an 80% higher risk of dementia, the message for all Australians is to get moving! Everyone can benefit from exercise, irrespective of age, gender, ethnic background, health or body size and shape.

For more information on healthy brain ageing, visit cheba.unsw.edu.au