Unsurprisingly, physical activity has many health benefits. But did you know that it’s also one of the best things we can do to keep our brain healthy? Here are a few of the benefits we gain from being physically active.
1. Effects on mood
Physical activity has positive effects on mental health. It can:
- increase self-confidence,
- strengthen a feeling of social inclusion and well-being, and
- reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
During physical activity, the “happiness hormones,” such as endorphins, are released. These create a feeling of relaxation and euphoria.
2. Effects on cognitive functions
Physical activity promotes attention, memory and information processing speed. How? By stimulating blood circulation throughout the body, especially in the brain. This blood flow, which is rich in oxygen, glucose and other nutrients, maintains the health of blood vessels in the brain.
Also, many activities directly involve certain cognitive functions. For example:
- procedural memory (as in dance or martial arts, where we must remember or memorize a series of movements),
- reaction speed (as in most team and racquet sports, where we must react quickly), and
- attention (as in group classes, team sports or playing an opponent, where we must focus on a task).
3. Effects on dementia risk
Physical activity can lower high blood pressure and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, which are major risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia (happens when blood flow to the brain is reduced by a partial or complete blockage).
Physical activity is also an excellent opportunity for socializing and preventing isolation. We know that an active social life also has a protective effect against dementia.
Because of these effects, being physically active can reduce the risk of developing dementia. Many studies allow us to reach this conclusion today. The World Health Organization therefore recommends that adults with good cognitive health engage in physical activity in order to decrease the risk of cognitive decline.
For maximum benefit, the ideal is to do at least 150 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity activities per week. Every step counts!
To learn more
- Kino-Québec Scientific Commitee (2020). Increasing Physical Activity Among Quebecers: Recommendations / Knowing and Acting. http://www.education.gouv.qc.ca
- World Health Organization (2010). Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. https://apps.who.int
- World Health Organization. Risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia │ WHO guidelines │ Executive Summary. https://www.who.int