The list of things you can do to protect your brain and improve brain function is quite long, but there is one things that is always at the top.
There is absolutely, positively no doubt that exercise is incredibly important for your brain. And this is regardless of what you are worried about or what you are dealing with. Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, chronic migraine headaches, seizures, multiple sclerosis…
Sadly, this tool is brought into play far too seldom. The second you walk into your neurologist’s door, the first question he or she should be asking is how is your exercise routine going. All too frequently medications are the only item of discussion.
How exactly exercise helps the brain is yet to be figured out, but it’s likely working by several mechanisms:
- Improved blood flow to the brain. More blood flow means more nutrients and healthier brain cells.
- Release of the hormone irisin through exercise.
- Muscles use glucose. More muscle means better glycemic control and lowered risk of diabetes. Prediabetes and diabetes destroy the brain.
And probably several more ways that I can’t think of right now. This particular article adds to the list. In it, researchers looked at the effect of the hormone adiponectin on the brains of mice.
Adiponectin is a hormone produced by the fat cells in the abdomen. This hormone is essentially an anti-diabetes hormone. As I mentioned, since diabetes is so bad for the brain, it might make sense that adiponectin would have positive effects on the cells of the brain.
But the specifics are what were so surprising:
- Adiponectin can cross the blood–brain barrier. Higher levels in the brain increased the number of brain cells and decreased depression-like behaviors.
- A deficiency of adiponectin, however, cut short the beneficial effects of exercise in increasing the number of brain cells in the hippocampus (the region affected by Alzheimer’s dementia).
Because researchers were using mice, they were able to modify the hormone levels. But, in your own brain, these same effects can be achieved through a combination of living an anti-diabetic lifestyle and exercise.
The anti-diabetic lifestyle will increase the levels of adiponectin being released by your fat cells. The higher levels of adiponectin will give you the best possible effects of exercise on your brain. Specifically, according the this study, the hippocampal region of your brain will benefit. This is the region that is heavily involved with memory.
So, if you are a migraine sufferrer, it is not exercise alone that is going to protect your brain and your memory. Exercise needs to be coupled with an anti-diabetic diet to have the full effect on protecting your brain.
Want to avoid Alzheimer’s dementia? Same story.
Depression? Anxiety? Same story.
Get the point? You cannot change or improve one aspect of your lifestyle without making changes in other areas as well. Anything less will not give you the full benefit.