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All Health's Breaking Loose: Exercise and brain health

March 16, 2011|By Loa Blasucci

If you took all of my clients over the past 10 years — whether from group classes at the gym, or my Mind & Body Sculpting class at the Community Center, personal training clients or beloved Wellness Boot Campers — polled them all and asked the reasons they exercise, approximately 85% of these lovely individuals would list “weight loss” as one of the main reasons they exercise.

Your body weight is an “in your face” biomarker of what is going on with the processes of your body. It’s a good thing to pay attention to, and if looking lean and mean in your jeans motivates you to keep exercising, then I’m OK with that.

But let’s not underestimate the power of what is happening when you get your body moving. Your amazing, intelligent healing machine is capable of managing so much more than what meets the eye in the mirror (visual here: you pulling on your favorite jeans and then turning all the way around to see how they look from the back).

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The benefits of exercise are not exclusive to the body: Exercise keeps your brain “fit” as well. In late adulthood, some notice memory impairment and balance problems; this is because the hippocampus is attempting to shrink. This is how dementia gets a foothold. A new study shows us that regular exercise, over the course of a year, can increase the size of your hippocampus — the part of your brain that manages memory and spacial navigation.

Out of 120 non-exercisers, half were assigned to a year-long aerobic exercise program of 40-minute sessions three days a week. The half that exercised had increases in hippocampus volume, up to 2.12%! Other related studies support this newfound power of exercise; MRI tests have shown that sedentary children who start to exercise begin to test “smarter.” The more they exercise, the more increased activity is found in the prefrontal cortex, the area we use for critical thinking, social behavior and decision making.

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