Whether you’d like to boost your memory skills or increase your mental health it doesn’t sound like the obvious first step, but brain health is reliant on exercise! Exercise is activity requiring physical effort – generally making your muscles work and requiring your body to burn calories. You might already be exercising passively, without even knowing it - walking and household chores are classic examples. So, there’s no doubt about the physical benefits of exercise – but what about the benefits of exercise for your brain and emotions?
1. Stress relief – Exercise can have beneficial effects on stress and anxiety levels, leaving you feel more calm and relaxed. This may be due to reduced adrenaline and cortisol and increased serotonin and norepinephrine, which moderate the brain’s response to stress. Or it could simply be that a good bout of physical activity can help you forget the stresses of your day – acting as a form of meditation.
2. Improved mood – Physical activity has been shown to improve mood and feelings of happiness. Exercise triggers endorphins, the brain’s ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters. Endorphins boost your mood and help you relax. 3. Focus and clear thinking – Physical activity delivers oxygen to the brain and related tissues. 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, five days a week is recommended to release brain chemicals that support memory, focus and mental concentration.
4. Better sleep – Several research studies suggest links between regular exercise and improved sleep. Physical activity is an important factor in being able to fall asleep more quickly and enhancing the quality of sleep. Brain rest is important and good sleep helps your mind improve connections and process the information of the day.
You don’t just have to improve your fitness for a better brain, there are some mental excercises that you can do to make your thinking more agile too...
1. Challenge your brain with conflicting verbal and visual information. For example try reading out loud quickly colours printed in colours that don’t match the word e.g. the word pink written in blue ink. Challenge yourself to say the colour but not read the word. It’s surprising how easily the brain can freeze but with practice you’ll get better at it. You can even do things like make opposing hand gestures and then switch hands, try a peace sign with one hand and an ok sign with the other then try and switch as quickly as you can! It’s not easy but you’ll get better! 2. Draw with both hands at the same time, this will challenge both sides of your brain.
3. Read aloud to others or to yourself. Reading is great anyway for your mind, but reading outloud enables you to retain more of the information.
4. Eat with chopsticks. Well, just do anything that you find a natural process in a way that feels difficult for you. Trying out new ways of doing things forces your brain to adapt and learn new control skills.
5. Practice meditation. Helping your mind to be still is valuable for having a healthy brain. It can give you focus when information overload is getting on top of you!