Did You Know that Different Exercises Can Affect Different Parts of Your Brain? Part 1: Adults

We all know that we should exercise every day to stay healthy and fit. Right? And if you’re like me, you’ve got a million excuses why you simply can’t do it… EVERY DAY! Well, now there’s scientific research that shows that different kinds of exercises affect different parts of your brain – not just your muscles and cardiovascular system.  What’s really exciting about these studies is that you can improve your memory, complex thinking, attention, and more by doing specific types of exercise. Do I have your attention now? 

When I read that Univ. of British Columbia, Univ. of Groningen (Netherlands), Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Massachusetts General Hospital that studied specific exercise regimens and found that you can improve your memory and critical thinking skills by exercising specific parts of your brain, I was so excited I wanted to lay out a plan right then. And, of course, that was at 3:00 am!

So what kinds of exercise should you do?

Aerobic Exercise: Running and cycling 3-4 times per week (30 min. each)
 -- Increases hippocampus, which promotes new neuron growth
 -- Improves verbal memory (words on the tip of your tongue)
 -- Reverses shrinking of hippocampus (cause of memory loss)
 -- Staves off Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia
 -- Combine Aerobics with Weight training to boost results even more!

Weight Training: Lifting weights 2 times per week (an hour each)
 -- Improves executive functioning skills (problem solving, reasoning, and planning)
 -- Improves associative memory (link faces to names)
 -- Combine Aerobics with Weight training to boost results even more!

Sports Training: Practicing coordination exercises such as balancing, synchronizing arm and leg movements, working with ropes and balls
 -- Improves concentration

High-Intensity Intervals: Exercising in quick spurts of all-out exercise (alternating between very high and easy in 30-second to 1-minute intervals)
 -- Reduces food cravings

Yoga: Practicing yoga poses
 -- Increases cortical thickness (sensory, cognitive, and emotional processing)

Hiking and Playing: Hiking on or off paths and climbing trees or and balancing on a curb
 -- Improves visual-spatial processing (mentally approximating distances to get across the street before a car approaches)
 -- Improves working memory
 -- Helps prioritize and process information to focus on what’s important
 -- Improves ability to coordinate between body position (orientation) and movement (navigation/locomotion) to help with balancing and thinking at the same time

Keep exercising to maintain these benefits.  In other words, if you fall off the wagon, your memory and executive functioning skills will decrease. So start by creating a workout schedule that includes a combination of aerobics and weight training for 3 to 4 days per week.  Then change it up by adding a day to hike, climb trees, do yoga, or play your favorite sport. Let me know if you notice a difference in how your brain functions!