Brain Health: Exercise & the Brain – part 3

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Welcome back to part three of my brain health series. In this series, I’m breaking down the chapters from the book, Brain Rules, by Dr. John Medinawho is a developmental molecular biologist. I simply love this book and have recently discovered in addition to the original Brain Rules book, he wrote one for babies and for the aging.

In this article, I’ll focus on brain rule #2: Exercise boosts brainpower.

First question, why do we focus on brain health? ‘Cus it affects pretty much everything.


I’ve always been an active person. I grew up swimming competitively and then tried my hand and several different sports in high school. I’ve developed the habit of incorporating exercise into my daily life. Sure there have been seasons where I didn’t exercise as much as others; however, I always seem to come back to it.

Even in my addiction, I exercised. I was a high functioning addict/alcoholic but I will say that in the end as the addiction took over, the exercise lessened and lessened.

When I got sober, I struggled with depression. At the time I had a treadmill in my garage that I inherited from my Dad. Most days I’d wake up depressed, but I wanted to stay sober more than anything in the world. So I’d drag myself into the cold garage and run on the treadmill. I’d build up enough endorphins so that I could then face the day.

Furthermore, I had a friend who met me for walks/jogs.

I know exercise was essential in my recovery.

What the research says

When I studied this book for an education class I took to renew my teaching license, I fell in love with. I felt like science was backing up what God had shown me to be true. As I talked about in my previous post on stories, our mind can be the biggest battlefield we face in life.

With the elderly…

Dr. Medina talks about research that was done on the aging and in particular those who were aging well. They found one of the greatest predictors of successful aging was an active lifestyle.

Researchers administered a plethora of mental health tests. They found a lifetime of exercise resulted in higher cognitive function than compared to those with a sedentary lifestyle.  Medina actually used the word astonishing when describing the cognitive function of the elderly who’ve been exercising their whole life.

I want the word astonishing to be used about me when I’m in my 90’s. 🙂

Additionally, they took some elderly folks who were mostly sedentary. Their brainpower was measured before and after four months of exercise. You guessed it – their mental cognition improved!  Further proof that it’s never too late!! However, Ms. Fiology readers already know that to be truth.

With the middle-age…

They also studied more than 10,000 British civil servants between the ages of 35 and 55. Their activity was graded at three levels. Those in the low level showed poorer cognitive performance.

In this study, it was discovered that fluid intelligence is hurt by sedentary lifestyles.  Fluid intelligence is what allows us to solve problems as they arise randomly in life. Yep, the ability to think on your feet!

With the youth…

Furthermore, they took a group of school-age students and put them on a regimen of jogging 2 -3 times a week for 30 minutes a shot. Their cognitive performances improved. However, when the exercise program discontinued their scores plummeted.

Here are some of the ways physically fit students outperformed sedentary ones:

  • Concentration
  • Identifying visual stimuli quicker
  • Ability to allocate cognitive resources to the task at hand
  • Staying on task longer

I think it’s safe to say that exercise at any age is beneficial. I’m most encouraged the research shows it’s not too late. I’m always rooting for the underdog. Get in the game!

The treatment of dementia, Alzheimer’s & depression

Researchers looked at thousands of studies reproduced all over the world for decades and the evidence is conclusive. The possibility of developing dementia is cut in half with aerobic exercise; Alzheimer’s by 60%.

Apparently, rigorous exercise is also shown not only as a successful treatment but a preventative measure for anxiety and depression. Exercise is not recommended as a replacement for psychiatric therapy; although, many psychiatrists are prescribing physical daily activity to their patients.

How much?

So the question many of us are asking is how much exercise do we need to reap benefits. The good news is that even a little can produce effects. If you walk for 20 minutes a day, you reduce your chance of a stroke by 57%!

The sweet spot seems to be 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 2 – 3 times a week.  Add some strengthening exercises to your routine and you can expect to reap additional brain health benefits.

Of course, if you are just starting out on an exercise routine, you should consult with your physician first.

What I do…

I belong to a gym, actually, my boss covers this cost as a wellness benefit. I love it and take fitness classes at least 3 times a week. Additionally, I play volleyball which I find mentally challenging also.

I love to walk and hike.

I swim.

And biking, I certainly enjoy hopping on the saddle.

And my favorite winter hobby is skiing. It gives me something to look forward to when the flurries start to fly.

My advice is to do what you love. If you find something you enjoy, you’ll be more likely to stick with it.

Closing Thoughts

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

I’ve always been pretty active, as I mentioned earlier but upon getting sober I knew it to be one of the key components to maintaining my sobriety.

Early on in recovery, I saw a psychiatrist regularly. I remember every time I’d see her the first question she’d ask me was, “Deanna, how is your faith and what does your exercise regimen looks like these days?” Everything else was gravy.

I didn’t need to do the research to know the correlation between my brain health and exercise. My experiences have proven it to me but the confirmation is lovely.

Okay, so what’ holding you back? What are your exercise routines?



2 thoughts on “Brain Health: Exercise & the Brain – part 3”

  1. Deanna, another great post about brain health. So many of us do not think about these things and yet they are so important. The effects of not taking care of your brain health can be devastating.

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