Exercise and Brain Health
If you are like many Americans, your brain may be shrinking without your even knowing it. This is caused by a sedentary lifestyle that no longer promotes exercise and physical activity, both of which have a critical impact on the size of our brains.
Exercise promotes the release of hormones in the brain called nerve growth factor. These hormones are needed to keep our brains big and well connected. Our bodies and DNA were designed for movement. Our ancestors traveled 6 to 15 miles a day, walking, running, and carrying as they hunted and gathered food. Today, however, medical problems and jobs that require us to sit most of the day have led to a significant decrease in the amount of physical activity we get. Without this necessary exercise, we lose strength, our muscles atrophy (shrink), and our joints become stiff. It also means that our brains do not receive the signals to create necessary hormones to stay big and healthy.
The best way to keep your brain big is to keep moving your body. For those with multiple sclerosis, other chronic autoimmune diseases, or a serious health problem, this can be a special challenge. However, you are not alone, and you should ask for a referral to a physical therapist who can design a personalized program for stretching and strengthening that will help keep your body strong and flexible. Without some type of daily activity, you are at an increased risk for steady decline in how far you can walk. Even if you are healthy, I encourage you to begin a daily program of stretching and moving your body to maintain brain health. When we do less and less physical activity, not only do our muscles shrink, but so do our brains and spinal cords. Exercise will make all the difference in keeping your brain from shrinking.