The brain is a thinking organ that grows and learns via interaction with the world through action and perception (Aamodt, and Wang 1). The human brain has the capability to constantly rewire and adjust itself. Even in old age, the brain is capable of growing new neurons. While severe mental decline is disease-caused, numerous age-related motor skills or memory losses are the results of lack of stimulation and mental exercises, as well as inactivity. Exercise has been found to be valuable to human beings in numerous ways from treating depression to improving brain function. Both physical and mental exercises stimulate the brain, which consequently improves its functioning and protects it against cognitive decline (Aamodt, and Wang 1). For instance, exercise results in the release of some neurotransmitters within the brain, which help to reduce both physical and mental pain.
In addition, some scientists have found that exercises help generate new neurons (Aamodt, and Wang 1). It is crucial to mention that all types of aerobic exercises are beneficial to the brain, even if most research studies done in the past have focused on running. Even though, the exact nature of the benefits of exercise is still under determination, there is adequate research on the benefits of exercise on the brain function that ought to motivate even skeptics to engage in exercises. Exercise exerts its impacts on the brain via mechanisms such as mood enhancement, neurogenesis, and endorphin release among others (Aamodt, and Wang 1). According to research, engaging in exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, which are natural opiates comparable to morphine, which are produced during exercise as natural pain relievers in reaction to a shock the human body is subjected to during exercise (Aamodt, and Wang 1). However, some researchers have questioned whether endorphins enhance the mood. According to recent studies, endorphin metabolism in the body is a complex process, and there is a likelihood of other mechanisms being involved in the mental health impacts of exercises (Aamodt, and Wang 1).
According to Holmes (1) exercise enhances activity within the frontal lobes of the brain, in addition to the hippocampus, though nobody knows why or how it happens. Studies on animals have revealed that exercise results in an increase in the levels of norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin. These are neurotransmitters that are associated with mood elevation. In addition, exercise also increases the brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels; a substance that is known to improve the mood, and whose primary role is to aid the brain cells in surviving longer. Perhaps, this explains the beneficial impacts of exercise on dementia decrease (Holmes 1).
The application of physical exercise in combination with brain fitness has been found to enhance cognitive functioning within parameters such as time and style of exercise. The variations among exercise styles like preferring cycling instead of walking are linked to improved brain function throughout and following work out (Holmes 1). Ballroom dancing, which is an activity that has both mental and physical demands, has been found to have a greater effect on cognitive functioning than mental tasks or physical exercise alone; an indication that the greatest brain health exercises are those that integrate various brain parts like rhythm, coordination and strategy. This paper focuses on the influence of physical and mental exercises on brain activity (Holmes 1).
The influence of physical exercises on brain activity
Physical exercises, particularly aerobic exercise have numerous positive impacts on the brain activity on multiple fronts (Anonymous 1). According to the research study done by the Department of Exercise Science, University of Georgia, a brief twenty-minute physical exercise has the ability of facilitating memory functions and information processing (Anonymous 1). Physical exercise leads to increased heart rate, which pumps additional oxygen to the brain. This consequently improves cognitive function. It also assists the production of surplus hormones, which offer a nourishing atmosphere for the development of brain cells (Anonymous 1). Physical exercises also stimulate brain plasticity through stimulation of the growth of fresh links amongst cells within a broad range of significant cortical brain areas. Physical exercises also increase the growth factors within the brain, enabling it to grow fresh neuron connections easily. Running not only leads to the stress hormones reduction but also increases the number of cells growing within the hippocampus, a brain area responsible for memory and learning (Anonymous 1).
According to researchers, cardiovascular exercise increases oxygen transportation to the brain, as well as increasing the heart stroke volume. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new capillaries in the brain that permits extra oxygen to get to the brain cells (Michelon 1). A study was conducted where one group of rats (both young and old) was raised in an atmosphere that promotes exercise, while the other group was raised in an environment that promotes intellectual stimulation (Michelon 1). The rats that exercised were found to have additional capillary development within the brain, while those that were subjected to intellectual stimulation had extra neuronal development (Michelon 1).
An evaluation of the cognitive enrichment therapies done in 2008 concluded that physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise boosts the cognitive function of older adults. The same results were found when research was done using mice (Holmes 1). It revealed that physical exercise enhanced the cognitive function through improving spatial learning that is hippocampus-dependent, as well as, enhancing neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity (Holmes 1). Besides, exercise has been found to lessen the risk of getting dementia, as well as reversing brain damage that is alcohol-induced (Holmes 1). Studies conducted to compare the cognitive performance of people who exercise and those who do not, found out that people who engaged in exercises performed better in a wide range of cognitive assignments than their counterparts who were non-exercisers (Holmes 1). It has also been found that moderate, as well as high physical activity levels, are associated with relatively low risk of Alzheimer’s disease (Holmes 1).
With regard to physical exercise and brain function in children between 4 and 18 years, research has revealed that physical activity enhances the perceptual skills, achievement skills, intelligence quotient, mathematic and verbal abilities, academic readiness, as well as the developmental level of children (Holmes 1). These findings show that engaging in physical exercises early in a person’s life has a great magnitude for the enhancement of cognitive health in childhood, and this is likely to extend all through one’s adult life. While some schools have eliminated or reduced physical activity to enable students concentrate on their academic work, no research has proven that the lack of exercise influences academic performance positively. In fact, according to Holmes (1), high school students who exercise and participate in sports, more frequently have higher grades, better relationships and rarely use drugs, as compared to students who exercise less frequently. Perhaps, this explains why Holmes (1) suggests that aerobic exercises may improve brain resilience later in life, leading to cognitive reserve i.e. the resilience of the mind to brain neurological damage.
Another study aimed at measuring cognitive function was done in 2001 on 65-year old women over a period of 6 to 8 years. The least cognitive decline was recorded in the most physically active females (Holmes 1). As seen above, there are numerous evidences showing a significant relationship between physical exercise and improved brain function in both children and adults. As a result, some authors propose that physical activity might have a neuoprotective effect within the brain, which boosts brain health, as well as cognitive functioning.
The influence of mental exercises on brain activity
Mental exercises have been commonly associated with impacting the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (Vedantam 1). A study done in 2006 by ACTIVE (Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly), was the initial randomized and controlled trial showing the beneficial effects of mental training on the elderly. In the study, the elderly subjects enhanced their cognitive abilities via a wide range of assignments from memorizing the order of ideas in a story, to locating patterns in sequences of letters or words. Improved memory, among other cognitive functions, was observed in subjects who received cognitive training, as opposed to those who did not get any form of mental training (Vedantam 1). From the study, mental exercise directly improved the brain performance of the seniors; an implication is that intentional mental training is an effective method of enhancing brain activity (Vedantam 1). The research concluded that the gains of mental training are able to thwart the deterioration in the mental performance expected in the elderly (Vedantam 1). Engaging in mental exercise constructs and maintains cognitive stimulation reserve, thus reducing the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, in addition to other forms of dementia by almost 50% (Vedantam 1). The reserve of cognitive stimulation is called cognitive reserve or brain reserve. According to the National Institute on Aging, the cognitive reserve hypothesis affirms that it is probable to develop the resistance of the brain to neuronal damage, in addition to delaying the commencement of Alzheimer’s disease. People who stimulate their brains more often experience a relatively slower rate of cognitive decline than those who stimulate their brains less frequently, notwithstanding their cognitive levels (Vedantam 1). This study confirms the past research which has proven a positive correlation between mental exercise and decreased cognitive decline.
The brain is a thinking organ that grows and learns via interaction with the world through action and perception. Past research studies have shown that both physical and mental exercises stimulate the brain, which consequently, improves its functioning and protects it against cognitive decline. Aerobic exercise, for example, leads to increased heart rate, which pumps additional oxygen to the brain. This consequently improves cognitive function. Mental exercise, on the other hand, improves memory and increases brain activity. This should be a challenge to people who desire to live long healthy lives to do exercise regularly because of the numerous benefits that it has.