Exercise and the brain boost

Cathleen Kronemer

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT

When we train our bodies in the gym, we usually have visual proof that our efforts are making a difference. Often we are able to receive positive confirmation from other systems in our bodies, even if we are unable to see the changes: reduction in serum cholesterol, for example, or an increase in bone density.

A new body of research shows that there may be one more benefit that we cannot see, but that is definitely working in our favor: exercise can actually improve the performance of the brain by boosting memory and cognitive processing speed.

It had long been believed that the human brain contained a fixed number of neurons -brain cells which help us think. But recently it has been demonstrated that an increase in exercise can actually affect neurogenesis. Doctors at Columbia University in New York published a study outlining how individuals who worked out 4 hours a week increased the volume of blood flowing to their brains, which in turn helped to produce fresh neurons. These same test subjects improved their memory, too, as demonstrated by a simple word-recall test.

Since neurologists believe that the loss of neurons in the brain may be a contributing factor in the cognitive decay associated with aging, it seems like exercise might be an avenue worth pursuing, not just to keep the body in shape but to ensure that our minds stay sharp as well!

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Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, has been teaching fitness classes at the Jewish Community Center for more than 20 years.