Exercise has long been known to have benefits for cognitive health. The results of exercise on cognition are well-documented and supported, providing strong evidence that exercise benefits the brain as a whole. However, we’re only now learning how this happens! In this post, we’ll explain what cognition is and why it’s important for your body and mind, then look at how exercise affects cognitive function and how we can enhance our cognitive health through exercise.
What is Cognition?
Cognition is the mental process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. It encompasses all mental processes required for making sense of our environment and remembering it long enough to apply that knowledge in future situations.
Cognition can be broken down into a number of sub-categories: perception, attention, memory (short term vs long term), language comprehension/expression, reasoning/problem solving/decision-making skills (logical thinking), spatial attributes (visualization) as well as motor skills.
These are all important aspects that affect how we interact with others every day – at work or at home – but they also have an impact on our overall health because they play a role in how well we maintain healthy habits like diet and exercise routines.
How does Exercise affect Cognition?
You’ve probably heard that exercise is good for you. And you already know that it’s good for your heart and lungs, but did you know that it can also have a positive effect on your brain? Exercise improves cognition in different ways. First, it improves blood flow to the brain. More blood flowing means more oxygen reaching neurons which allows them to function better. Second, exercise increases the volume of gray matter in certain areas of the brain related to memory and learning. Third, exercise strengthens white matter connections between neurons within these same regions of gray matter which helps facilitate transfer of information between them. Finally, regular aerobic activity boosts mood as an increase in neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine enhances our ability to pay attention while exercising without being distracted by other things going on around us (Tucker et al., 2013). The result is an improved ability to focus on new tasks with greater accuracy than before beginning this type exercise regimen!
The benefits of exercise for cognition, particularly for older adults
Exercise is a powerful tool for helping maintain function and improve the brain’s capacity. While researchers have found that exercise has positive effects on cognitive function in children, older adults, and individuals with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, there’s still little known about how much exercise is needed to produce these benefits.
One study found that elderly adults who participated in aerobic exercise five times per week showed improvement in their ability to perform daily tasks such as shopping or cleaning their home compared with those who did not participate in this type of activity (Wildman et al., 2018). Another study found similar results: when older adults participated in aerobic activities three times per week for 12 weeks, they were able to improve their performance on certain tests related specifically with executive functions (i.e., multi-tasking) as well as memory skills (Dickinson et al., 2016). In addition, another recent study showed evidence suggesting that physical fitness training could be effective at preventing dementia later on down the line by improving processing speed among healthy individuals aged 60–75 years old who took part (Kamijo et al., 2019).
How does exercise improve our cognitive function?
Exercise improves the brain’s ability to process information. In other words, it helps us learn and remember new things. Studies show that exercise increases levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which is linked to motivation and reward-seeking behaviors. Dopamine also plays a role in memory formation and decision making.
Exercise stimulates the release of certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine — two chemicals responsible for mood regulation. In addition to improving your mood, these chemicals have been shown to have an impact on learning (especially sleep-deprived learning).
There are many ways that exercise can benefit our cognitive function, if you know how to do it and why it works. For example:
- Increased blood flow to the brain, which delivers oxygen and nutrients to brain cells, supporting optimal brain function.
- Brain cell growth in certain regions of the brain.
- Increased neuronal (nerve cell) survival by reducing stress hormones like cortisol, which can kill neurons through apoptosis (programmed cell death).
- Improved communication between neurons due to increased levels of neuromodulators such as dopamine and serotonin that regulate brain activity by binding with specific receptors on the surface of nerve cells. These neurotransmitters also affect moods through their actions on pathways leading from one neuron to another in various regions of your head!
- Enhanced metabolism within neural networks involved with memory formation—the hippocampus is especially important here because it plays an essential role in spatial navigation/orientation skills needed for sports participation..
With all this information in mind, it’s now up to you to decide whether exercise is a benefit that can help you stay fit. If you’re interested in learning more about the subject, there are many websites available online with extensive resources on how exercise affects cognition. The best part is that if you aren’t ready yet or don’t have time right away, then just remember to make some room for it during your next workout session. That way at least you’ll be able to see if it helps improve your brain activity as well as physical health! It’s always good practice when taking care of yourself.