Exercise, Stress, and the Brain

Dr. Paul Thompson (PhD) discusses how our environment affects our brains and shows some rather interesting neuroimaging findings.

Exercise affects our brain in a few different ways.
1)Blood flow. If your heart is working hard, your brain is getting more perfused with oxygen rich blood and nutrients.
2)Production of new neurons. It has been thought that exercise can help induce the production of growth factors, one of them being brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), stimulating production of new brain cells.
3)Reducing stress. This has been an idea that imaging has allowed us to test. When we are stressed (e.g. angry, stuck in traffic, etc.) our cortisol levels rise. Some research has suggested that those with high cortisol levels, lost brain tissue faster. We can get less stressed by exercising, walking, taking breaks. Imaging has established a connection between cortisol levels and actual changes in activity in the brain.

Bottom line, take care of your brain, think of it more as a mental bank account for the future. You can eat a healthier diet, exercise, reduce stress and make sure you are well informed. It may seem like hard work, but you are building a store of neuronal connections that you can make good use of for the rest of your life.