The human brain is a great three pound organ. It is the seat of our intelligence, initiates all of our body movements and controls our behavior. With increasing age, it is expected that the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases will increase significantly. Our health and longevity depend on the capabilities of the brain. The aging of the brain is an important precursor to a decline in cognitive function, which increases the risk of dementia and neurodegenerative diseases. About 100 million Americans will suffer from devastating brain disorders at some point in their lives. We have to take care of our noggins.
Healthy aging of the brain requires a powerful factor: exercise. Exercise reduces all of the major features of brain aging. Better cardio fitness in older adults is also linked to improved decision-making and can affect the functional connectivity of the network in the hippocampus, the complex brain structure responsible for learning and memory.
The brain lies in its bony shell and is protected in protective fluid. It is the source of all the qualities that define our humanity. Inside, the brain structure is like a solid jelly that contains around 86 billion neurons (nerve cells), the “gray matter”, and billions of nerve fibers, the “white matter”, connected by billions of synapses. Exercise is a huge metabolic switch. It turns on all of these neurons and stimulates several important energy-sensing pathways in the brain.
Regular exercise is like a miracle for cell function. Unless you’re a regular aerobics trainer, consider using him as your first-line strategy for healthy brain aging.
The ability to think, learn, and remember clearly is an important part of everyday life. It’s one of the many aspects of brain health. The motor skills – how you control movement and balance – is different. Brain health also includes emotional functions of how well you interpret and respond to both pleasant and uncomfortable feelings. Add to this tactile function of touch, tenderness and temperature. When the brain is healthy, these essential functions are automatic and quick.
Exercise is one of the best strategies for slowing down all of the major features of brain aging, largely because it activates key cellular energy-sensing pathways. This improved energy metabolism during exercise is important because the proteins and cell pathways involved can also directly influence other characteristics. The cellular functions are huge; Glucose transport (brain food) and improved glucose utilization, regulated glycolysis, respiration and energy metabolizing enzymes. At the cellular level, the turnover of proteins and macromolecules is activated, which can be used to generate energy. These signal proteins also influence gene expression, plasticity and memory formation. In fact, habitual aerobic exercise can reduce damage to biomolecules in the brain. When you exercise, you are literally repairing DNA.
The next time you decide to get off the couch and get some fresh air and exercise, remember that your little brain is worth cherishing for long, happy life.
Connie Aronson is an ACSM exercise physiologist and specialist in corrective exercises (TBBM-CES). Follow her on www.conniearonson.com and on Instagram @conniearon