By Gavin Buehler
We began this series with a brief look at the benefits of exercise on Strength, Metabolic Health, Cardiovascular Health and Pain Management (Follow the links for a recap). To cap off this series, we’ll take a glance at the effects exercise has on Brain Function and Sleep Quality.
One of the most significant impacts of exercise can be seen through the effects it has on brain health. As more research flows in, it reaffirms that regular physical activity can enhance cognitive performance, improve mood, and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that individuals who engaged in regular physical activity had a 50% lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than those who were sedentary.
One of the primary mechanisms through which exercise improves brain health is by increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. It stimulates chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, promotes the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells. This, in turn, enhances the brain's ability to perform cognitive tasks, such as memory recall, decision making, and problem-solving.
Exercise has also been shown to promote the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that is essential for learning and memory. Physical activity stimulates the production of a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which plays a critical role in the development of new neurons. This process is known as neurogenesis, and it has been shown to be impaired in individuals with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.
In addition to promoting neurogenesis, exercise has been shown to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Physical activity releases endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that promote feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Exercise has also been shown to reduce levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can have a negative impact on brain function over time.
Studies have shown that exercise has a positive effect on sleep quality, promoting a deeper and more restful sleep. There are several ways in which exercise contributes to better sleep quality, and we’ll review a few here. For more information on sleep, check out these previous posts on our Blog!
Physical activity has been shown to increase the amount of time spent in deep sleep, the most restorative stage of sleep. Deep sleep is important for restoring energy levels, repairing tissues, and consolidating memories. Regular exercise also helps to establish a consistent sleep schedule helping to regulate and maintain the body's circadian rhythm, the internal 24-hour clock that regulates sleep-wake cycles.
Tying into the segment above, your brain has its very own waste clearance system called the Glymphatic System. This system is constantly filtering toxins from the brain, but during wakefulness, it is mainly disengaged. Most of the clearance takes place during the deep sleep (N3 or third stage) part of your sleep cycle. Impaired glymphatic clearance has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases.
Huh… and we just learned that exercise increases the amount of time spent in deep sleep, the most crucial stage of the cycle for glymphatic function.
Exercise also reduces stress and anxiety levels, which can interfere with the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Physical activity stimulates the production of endorphins, which promote relaxation and reduce feelings of anxiety. Exercise has also been shown to decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can also disrupt sleep.
Hopefully the insights from this series help shift the paradigm of how you view exercise and inspires you “Move With Purpose!” The long reaching benefits of exercise extend well beyond weight management and hold the greatest ability to positively impact overall well-being. There is no other tool or drug that can improve and maintain your life quality as much as exercise. Please make it a regular part of your life.
I hope that you found this information helpful and as always, this article is for educational purposes only. Please consult a health professional before attempting new exercises or protocols, as the content of this article may or may not be appropriate for you.
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