Ways Exercise Makes Your Brain Better

It improves your brain’s executive function

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Executive function basically means cognitive abilities like being able to focus on complex tasks, to organize, to think abstractly, and to plan for future events. It also encompasses working memory, such as the ability to keep a phone number in your head while you dial. When researchers set out to analyze the effects of exercise on executive function, they looked at 18 well-designed studies and found that adults aged 55 to 80 who did regular exercise performed four times better on cognitive tests than control groups who didn’t work out. Effects were greatest among those who exercised 30 to 45 minutes each session for longer than six months, but substantial benefits were seen in as few as four weeks of exercise. Here are 8 more habits that will keep your mind sharp.

It increases sensitivity to insulin

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When you eat, your body turns most of the food into glucose, or blood sugar, the main source of fuel for the body, including the brain. In order for that glucose to enter cells, it must be accompanied by the hormone insulin. Unfortunately, in some people, cells become resistant to insulin. The body then has to pump out more and more of it, and still blood sugar levels rise, often resulting in type 2 diabetes. And even if you don’t develop type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance is bad for your brain. When brain cells are flooded by glucose, it can adversely affect memory and thinking.

Regular exercise, however, can reverse insulin resistance. In fact, your insulin sensitivity increases, stabilizing your blood sugar after you eat—for at least 16 hours after a single exercise session. The better your blood-sugar control, the more protected you are against age-related cognitive decline. Don’t miss these other subtle but powerful benefits of exercise (other than weight loss).

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