This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
I read three interesting articles over the past couple of weeks pointing out the value of exercise for keeping your brain in good shape. Add to that an article pointing out that "extreme" exercise isn’t bad for the body and the message is clear: keep running!
I think the benefit of exercise for the brain is a very fascinating topic. Given that we used to think brain decline was inevitable as we age, it’s fascinating to see that we can improve our brains as we age – and the key is exercise.
First up, from Runner’s World, Masters Athletes Have Superior Brain Function:
The results suggest that older athletes have a lower risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, according to Tseng. But he emphasizes the key message here is the extraordinary benefits of long-term exercise – and that it’s never too late to start.
"Brain plasticity [changes] can happen even later in life and that’s an important message from the study," he says, noting that some of the athletes began running in their 40s and 50s.
Next, from Science Magazine, How Exercise Beefs Up the Brain.
In short, exercise stimulates the production of proteins that are very good for the brain.
Finally, from the Washington Post, Need a brain boost? Exercise.
According to recent research, a single workout can immediately boost higher-order thinking skills, making you more productive and efficient as you slog through your workday. When you exercise your legs, you also exercise your brain; this means that a lunchtime workout can improve your cognitive performance, thanks to blood flow and brain food. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, is a protein that facilitates the growth of neurons and nourishes existing ones. It improves executive function, a type of higher-order thinking that allows people to formulate arguments, develop strategies, creatively solve problems and synthesize information. BDNF sits idly at the synapses of your brain neurons and crosses the synapses only with the increased blood flow that comes with exercise.
Hey, BDNF is that same good protein from the prior article. What to take from these two combined? That BDNF that is produced through exercise is good for both short term boosts and long term brain development/maintenance.
On to what exercise does to the body, we have ScienceNordic weighing in with Debunked: extreme exercise isn’t harmful:
One conclusion was that mortality rates did not increase more than usually compared to the normal population. It’s been proven on more than one occasion that exercise has a positive effect on life span.
"There’s no basis in the literature to say extreme exercisers risk dying younger," says Overgaard. "But we don’t know what happens if you continue past your prime." Exercise doesn’t automatically mean a free pass to a long life, he adds; there’s still the risk of illness and diseases.
So it’s not a silver bullet but those who claim we’re killing ourselves off are just plain wrong.
So keep running. You’re doing your brain a favor and not harming your body.