We have two events in April aimed at encouraging you to take more exercise. Firstly, April is national Move More Month. Also, this year’s Walk to Work Day is 1 April. So with this perfect storm of influences and with the weather in the northern hemisphere turning to spring and summer, now is the time to think about doing more exercise.
Modern life often requires us to sit in one place, with little movement or exertion. And while modern life has many advantages, this sedentary lifestyle is not good for us. Inactivity can lead to weight gain and many health problems. But in addition to avoiding health problems, exercise has a tremendously beneficial effect on the brain.
In 2017, Dr Wendy Suzuki (Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the New York University) gave a very useful Ted Talk about the neurological benefits of exercise. She also discusses the science of how working out boosts your mood and memory and protects your brain against depression and neurodegenerative diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Any aerobic exercise (raises the heart rate) will have an immediate effect on your brain. It increases levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and noradrenalin. These improves your mood right away, improve reaction times and allows you to focus your attention better for around two hours.
And these effects are long lasting if exercise is done regularly (30 minutes of exercise, three to four times a week). Other long term benefits of exercise are that it stimulates the creation of brain cells in the hippocampus that improve you long term memory. The same effect happens in the prefrontal cortex which in turn boosts attention span. Both these areas are susceptible to neuro degeneration and cognitive decline. So exercise can really help protect these areas of the brain. As John Adams (US President and Founding Father) put it, “Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order”.
So, I have you convinced, but you don’t have any money to join a gym or take exercise classes. Well, you don’t have to do that. Any exercise that raises the heart rate is good. Ideas include going for a walk, be it with the dog, your family, a friend or on your own. You could also change your routines, take the stairs rather than the lift. And perhaps walk to work, to the shops or to see friends.