Exercise is one of the most powerful tools we have to strengthen the connection between brain cells and improve memory overall. A new study recently reviewed in The New York Times describes how this works, even during times of stress.
In order for our brains to retain a memory, multiple cells connect with or talk to each other.
Synapses are the connections in our brains that transmit signals across these cells, known as neurons. The strength of the signal is what determines how well we are able to remember an experience. Adverse experiences and chronic stress can impair our ability to remember. It has now been discovered that by strengthening the connections between brain cells, exercise can help us with memory even when we are stressed. This is great news, especially when life sometimes feels overwhelming and we are faced with circumstances we can’t control.
This brain-boosting bit of news about exercise is exciting enough by itself. What is even better is that just about every type of exercise provides a veritable menu of health enhancements. Exercise not only improves brain health, it improves bone health, blood lipid levels including cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, immune response, metabolism and our mood.
Speaking of mood, certain kinds of exercise including yoga, tai chi and qi gong, elicit the relaxation response. Being in this relaxed state bolsters sleep and metabolism (e.g. nutrient absorption), which can help improve memory. Repetitive exercises like walking, running, using an elliptical machine, and rowing also bring about the relaxation response. All of these activities help to regulate excessive stress.
Always speak with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program. It may be helpful to get started with a personal trainer who can establish a routine that incorporates aerobic, strength, and flexibility elements into your routine. As you feel comfortable, you can attend classes in each fitness area or those which are a combination of all three.
And most important: always remember to breathe. As you move, bringing awareness to each part of your body through breath can enhance the overall benefits.