Study Shows that Regular Exercise Makes Your Brain Healthier, Too
Based on a recent study, scientists say that if you can walk this far in two minutes, you’re much smarter than the average. And even if you can’t, with a little effort, you might be able. In the process, you’ll improve your physical and mental health.
Most people know that incorporating regular exercise into your routine is a good thing, helping improve physical health and elevate your mood for up to 12 hours. A recent study published in Scientific Reports says the benefits go beyond just that—the study reveals a definite link between physical fitness and improved cognitive function.
As it turns out, being active (even for a couple minutes each day) will have immense effects. The study reveals that routine exercise could help you increase your lifespan by 12 to 14 years, hugely decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s, and improve your memory, reasoning, sharpness, and judgment.
Here’s the good news: routine exercise does not need to be extremely taxing, and you don’t have to be a triathlete.
Here’s how the study worked, and how you could apply it to your life:
First, participants walked as quickly as they could for two minutes, and researchers measured the distance completed. The mean distances were 660 feet for men and 640 for women—this is about a 16-minute mile or a slightly under 4 minutes per hour page.
After this short bit of exercise, participants took a variety of cognitive tests. Researchers were surprised to find that cognitive performance decreases as fitness levels drop—in both younger and older individuals. Researchers wrote “this leads up to believe that a basic level of fitness seems to be a preventable risk factor for brain health.”
On an even more scientific level, researchers took MRIs of participants and found that “higher (personal fitness) is associated with preserved white matter microstructure and better performance in a wide range of cognitive domains.”
Basically, this means that people who are more generally fit—or who performed well on the walk test—do have greater white matter integrity. White matter is made up of bundles of myelinated axons that affect learning and brain functions and coordinate communication between different brain regions.
White matter integrity improves episodic memory (personal experiences), according to an Inc. article on the topic. It also improves cognitive flexibility, processing speed, and fluid intelligence. In turn, when your brain can do these functions well, it can make smarter decisions quicker.
All from being able to walk a little faster? Well, yes. Making a little bit of a faster time on your two-minute walk really is the first step. Below are some tips on starting to improve your health and incorporate fitness into your routine:
A short walk or run goes a long way. Walking and running—if you have good shoes with arch support—is a free ticket to exercise, really. A brisk walk can prevent or manage a number of health conditions including health disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. After walking or running one distance for a while, up the distance a bit to keep your body improving.
Find other active alternatives. If walking or running is too touch on your joints, swimming is another great option for exercise without the impact of pavement. For more information on how to approach swimming, ANSI’s article on the study gives some good information. Or, try biking. Or boxing. Or yoga. Or really anything else to get your heartrate up a little.
You are what you eat. Eating healthier can seem like an overwhelming feat. But just like walking for two minutes, you can always start somewhere. Here’s a simple place to start.
Still don’t think you got the family’s smart genes? Well as it turns out, our “smart genes” might be very much within our control. As this study suggests, people who are fitter and incorporate routine exercise in their lives have better cognitive functions and a higher amount of white brain matter called “integrity.” Coincidence?