Benefits of Exercise for the Brain and Body

Exercise is a productive way to ward off the deterioration of body systems, including the brain.  The various body systems are interconnected and when one system begins to fail, other systems are affected.  Understanding what is happening within our bodies, as we age, can help motivate us to do more exercising and eat more nutritionally.  How can exercise help keep our body systems from deteriorating?

 1.  Exercise improves the cardiovascular system.

 It helps reduce stress on the blood vessels and helps build new vessels to take over if some become blocked.  Blood pressure is also kept in check.  During exercise, nitric oxide is increased.  This gas widens blood vessels and increases blood flow. Hardening of the brain arteries is lessened with moderate exercise.

 2.  Exercise regulates our body’s fuel.

 Aging results in a drop in insulin levels and it becomes difficult for glucose to enter the cells and provide fuel.  High glucose levels can cause a build-up of waste products in the damaged cells and blood vessels.  We then become susceptible to stroke and Alzheimer disease.  Exercise helps to regulate insulin levels in the body.

 3.  Exercise reduces obesity.

 Even though most senior citizens realize the positive effects exercise has on obesity and other health risks, the Center for Disease Control estimates that 73 percent of Americans over 65 are overweight.  Dr. John Ratkey, in his book “Spark,” states that the combination of being overweight, having high blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase the risk for developing dementia by six fold.   Regular exercise burns calories and curbs appetite.

 4.  Exercise reduces the effects of stress on the body.

 When our bodies are under stress, whether it is emotional or physical,  of cortisol are produced resulting in a state of chronic stress.  Damage to cells and possibly cell death begins to occur. This chronic stress can result in depression or dementia. Regular exercise can actually aid in the production of proteins that repair some of the damage, or at least, slow it down.

 5.  Exercise boosts the immune system.

 Physical activity activates the T-cells, which signal the body to detect development of illnesses, like cancer.  Studies substantiate that those who exercise regularly have a lower risk of getting cancer.  Damaged cells in abundance result in chronic inflammation.  A healthy immune system, kept strong with exercise, can slow down inflammation and bring the immune system into better balance.

 6.  Exercise strengthens our bones.

 It’s important to exercise in order to maintain strong bones so that we can continue to exercise as we age.  By age 60, it is estimated that 30 percent of a women’s bone mass is gone.  Osteoporosis is a condition marked by a certain amount of bone density loss.  It can lead to a high risk of spine and hip fracture.  Walking, running, and weight training help to keep our bones strong.

 7.  Exercise improves brain function.

 Aerobic activities are important in strengthening the networks in the brain.  In addition, exercise increases the number of connections between brain cells.  To avoid degenerative diseases, such as dementia, it is essential to keep the brain growing.  The brain will be able to learn, remember and manage emotions better.  If brain damage or deterioration occurs, strong brain cell connection will help the healing process.

 8. Exercise improves mood and motivation.

 Exercise increases the effectiveness of neurotransmitters and neurotrophins in our brain to stave off depression, anxiety and possibly dementia as we get older. Aging people seem to gradually get into the habit of becoming inactive and isolated. With physical activity, the natural decrease in dopamine, a brain chemical that helps us feel contented, is increased.  Playing golf, tennis and other social sports will improve motivation and a desire to improve skills.

 Chronological aging is a given, but losing the functions of our minds and bodies does not have to happen.  It is true that we are born with a certain genetic makeup, but we can modify our lifestyle to make the most of the genes we have.  Our ancient ancestors were moving all the time.  We weren’t meant to “sit on the couch” – we all need to get up and move.