Couple lifting weights in the gym

Exercisers Have More Youthful Brains

If Amanda spends 20 minutes on the stationary bike, jogs half a mile, and does 10 minutes of yoga poses, how long will it take her to burn 60 percent of the cheesecake she ate last night? Don’t know? Maybe if you started exercising, you would! According to studies, people who exercise not only have larger muscles in their arms and legs, they have them in their heads, too. Healthy body, healthy mind? Read on to find out.

Studies show that people who exercise have larger brain volume and a greater amount of intact white matter ( the filler that conducts nerve impulses and interconnects the brain) than those who don’t. In a study published in the journal PLoS ONE, scientist looked at brain activity measuring brain activity at rest and changes in blood oxygen levels with MRIs and evaluated white matter fibers.

White Matter
According to the study, exercise stimulates the brain, and that stimulation can cause people to perform better on cognitive tasks. According to Agnieszka Burzynska, the University of Illinois postdoctoral researcher who led the study, “We found that spontaneous brain activity showed more moment to moment fluctuations in the more active adults.” She adds, “In a previous study, we showed that in some of the same regions of the brain, those people who have a higher brain variability also performed better on complex cognitive tasks, especially intelligence tasks and memory.” The study also found that the white matter in more active people had a more youthful structure.

Burzynska expresses hopefulness in the usefulness and application of such studies in the future. “We want to know how the brain relates to the body, and how physical health influences mental and brain health in aging. Here, instead of a structural measure, we are taking a functional measure of brain health. And we are finding that tracking changes in blood oxygenation levels over time is useful for predicting cognitive functioning and physical health in aging.”

Best Exercises for Brain Health
Yet another study, published in the Journal of Physiology, aimed to find out which exercises increased brain volume most effectively. Researchers in Finland gathered a group of rats injected with a substance to mark the growth of new brain cells and set them on a variety of workouts. After seven weeks, the results came in.

senior couple jogging

Jogging
Rats who’d jogged on wheels showed the largest improvement in neurogenesis. Their brain tissue was full of new neurons, and the greater the distance the runner jogged, the greater the number of cells produced.

HIIT
For the rats perfuming high-intensity interval training, the results were less promising. Although they showed higher amounts of new neurons than sedentary animals, the results were far less impressive than those of the runners.

Weight Training
Although weight training rats were physically stronger at the end of the experiment, their brains showed no such improvement. Their brain tissue was identical to the animals that had not exercised at all.

Of course, animals are not humans, and weight training and HIIT may lead to changes elsewhere in the brain, implications of these studies may carry some weight. Miriam Nokia, a research fellow who led the study speculates that “sustained aerobic activity might be most beneficial for brain health also in humans.”

What do you think? Is aerobics the key to a fitter and smarter population? Let us know how you weigh in on the findings.

Woman working out in a gym.

Change How You Think – Make Working Out a Habit

You think about heading to the gym and working out. You may even plan out your exercise routine or when you are going to hit the gym. But somehow, those plans seem to fall by the wayside when it comes time for you to actually get moving. It doesn’t help that you have friends or know gym-goers that show up without fail every single day. Even more frustrating is that these fitness junkies actually like the process of exercise and look forward to this part of their day. While you mentally curse them for their dedication, you probably also wish that you could be more disciplined and more excited about your own exercise and now you can. A recent study published in the Health Psychology journal suggests that there really is a difference between those who consistently exercise and those that struggle with merely making time to head outside or to your gym, but don’t lose hope yet. Just because there is a difference between you and faithful gym-goers doesn’t mean that you can’t become one of the latter. The study suggests that you can learn to make exercise an essential part of your day.

What Sets Regular Exercisers Apart
The answer to what makes regular exercises different is frustratingly simple and you have probably heard it before. Those that workout without fail do not dread exercise and they don’t think of exercise as a chore that has to be done. It’s that difficult and that simple. Rather than thinking about exercise as one more thing that you have to cram into the day, consistent exercisers get active almost automatically; it is just a part of their daily routine. Those that exercise regularly receive cues, either internal or external, that signal it is time to get up and move. Some may respond to external sources, like the alarm going off in the morning, while others respond to an internal cue “I’m stressed from work and home obligations, it’s time to relieve some stress at the gym.”

In the study, the researchers referred to this tendency as the “instigation habit.” The researchers set out to find out whether the instigation habit would be indicative of people being able to stick to an exercise regime, and they definitely proved their hypothesis. In fact, the instigation habit was the only predictor that people would stick with exercise and that the more time spent exercising (for example going from the first month to the third), the stronger the instigation habit became. Why? Because it seems that exercisers with a high instigation habit do not think only of the work that awaits them when it’s time to exercise. They associate exercise and gym time with specific parts of their day; they hear their alarm in the morning and know it’s time to lace up the gym shoes. It isn’t only the exercise that the consistent gym-goers think of, they think of the entire experience of exercise, including that awesome post-workout high, as a habit they have cultivated, not as a chore that they have to cross off their to-do list.

Why it Matters
It seems like a great excuse (“I don’t intrinsically have a strong instigation habit so I shouldn’t even bother”), but it’s actually the reverse. If you weren’t blessed with a high instigation habit, it takes a bit more work on your part, but you absolutely can strengthen it. Beginning an exercise routine after a long break in physical activity (or a lifetime or inactivity) is by no means an easy task, but stick with it. The longer that you make regular exercise a part of your routine, the more you condition your mind to think of exercise as an essential part of your day.

The temptation to hit the snooze button or drive past the gym after a super long day at work is definitely great, but sticking to your exercise routine in the beginning makes it easier to make working out a lifelong habit. Physical activity is incredibly important for a healthy life and right now, it may not be your favorite thing to do. But if you can shift your thinking from “I hate this chore” to “oh, my alarm is going off, time to hit the gym,” you will be able to make exercise an essential part of your day, and your body will thank you.