Exercise, Health, and Mental Well-being

Exercise Health Mental Well-being

Exercise and Brain Health

We all know that physical exercise increases our physical fitness, but it also helps keep our brain healthy too. How does this work? First, it is necessary to define physical exercise so as not to confuse it with physical activity. Physical activity may be defined as any bodily movement, using skeletal muscles and requiring energy. Physical exercise is a category of physical activity that is planned, structured, repeated, and with a goal, for example, to improve fitness (1). Physical exercise may be aerobic (with oxygen) type activities such as running, cycling, swimming, spin classes, and kickboxing. These activities typical last for 30 or more minutes of continuous activity. Another type of physical exercise is anaerobic (without oxygen) such as resistance training (e.g., power or strength training and bodybuilding). An anaerobic training session may last as long as an aerobic one, but exercises are performed in sets (e.g., lifting weights 8-15 times) and are followed by a rest period before the next set commences. These types of activities help keep our brain healthy.

For the brain to maintain normal cognitive function, it requires a continuous oxygen supply and other nutrients. To achieve this, it is necessary to have an abundance of healthy blood vessels. The circulation of nutrient-rich blood throughout the body helps keep our blood vessels healthy. What if we could assist this process and stay physically and mental healthy for longer? Well, we can by engaging in exercise. By exercising, we make more of the cellular structures known as mitochondria which are  responsible for generating energy in our muscles and brain. In addition, increasing your heart rate enhances the ability for adults to grow new brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis (2).

Physical exercise modulates genes that initiates structural and functional changes in the brain. This is beneficial for cognitive functioning and overall well-being. In addition, physical exercise provides protection against neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (3). Research has revealed that physical exercise increases gray matter in frontal (important for problem solving, impulse control, language, memory, and judgement) and hippocampal (important for memory, especially long-term memory) regions of the brain (4); blood flow (5); academic achievement (6, 7, 8, 9); cognitive abilities such as memory, learning and attention (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17); and help prevent cognitive decline and the risk of dementia (18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23).

 

Exercise and Mental Health

Various studies have found that physical exercise improves mood and reduces depression and anxiety symptoms (24, 25). One study reported that individuals in an aerobic exercise group experienced lower depression relapse rates compared to those in a medication group (26). Health-related Quality of Life questionnaire scores appear to improve as a result of physical exercise due to the enhancement of well-being and physical functioning in individuals with poor health (27, 28).

Resistance training has been associated with improved mood and reduced confusion, anger and tension in healthy older adults. Some elderly individuals may feel isolated in their retirement years. Therefore, joining a gym, hiking group or other physically active group may also serve as a form of social support.  (29).

 

Exercise and Physical Health

Physical exercise has many benefits when it comes to our physical health. For example, engaging in regular and moderate physical exercise lowers our risk of coronary heart disease (30, 31). Taking part in physical activity has been shown to benefit individuals with Type II diabetes by lowering systolic blood pressure and decreasing the risk of diabetes-related complications and myocardial infarction (32).

Physical exercise can help us maintain a healthy body weight. The benefits of not being overweight include avoiding obesity, which in turn helps minimize the risk of developing Type II diabetes (33) and cardiovascular disease, but also help us move around easier so that we maintain mobility as we age.

Finally, physical exercise doesn’t have the nasty side-effects associated with many medications. However, it is important to get clearance from a medical professional before commencing any type (or increasing the intensity) of any physical exercise, to ensure it is safe for you to do so.

References

1. World Health Organization. (2010). Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. Geneva: WHO Press.

2. Jacobs, D.R. (2016). How Does Exercise Benefit Cognition? Scientific American Mind, 27(5), 72. doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmond0916-72a

3. Mandolesi, L., Polverino, A., Montuori, S., Foti, F., Ferraloli, G., Sorrentino, P., & Sorrentino, G.

(2018). Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Frontiers in Psychology, 9:509. doi:10.3389/psyg.2018.00509

4. Colcombe, S.J., Erikson, K.L., Scalf, P.E., Kim, J.S., Prakash, R., McAuley, E., et al. (2006). Fitness effects on cognitive function of older adults. Psychological Science, 14, 125-130. doi:10.111/1467-9280.t01-1-01439.

5. Weinberg, R.S., & Gould, D. (2015). Foundations of sport and exercise physiology (6th ed.). Champaign, Il:Human Kinetics.

6. Sibley, B.A., & Etnier, J.L. (2003). The relationship between physical activity and cognition in children: a meta-analysis. Pediatric Exercise Science 15, 243-256. doi:10.1123/pes.15.3.243

7. Voss, M.W., Chaddock, L., Kim, J.S., VanPatter, M., Pontifex, M.B., Raine, L.B., et al. (2011). Aerobic fitness is associated with greater efficiency of the network underlying cognitive control in preadolescent children. Neuroscience 199, 166-176. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.10.009

8. Lees, C., & Hopkins, J. (2013). Effect of aerobic exercise on cognition, academic achievement, and psychosocial function in children: a systematic review of randomized control trials. Preventing Chronic Disease, 10:130010. doi:10.5888/pcd10.130010

9. Donnelly, J.E., Hillman, C.G., Castelli, D., Etnier, J.L., Lee, S., Tomporowski, P., et al. (2016). Physical activity, fitness, cognitive function, and academic achievement in children. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 48, 1197-1222. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000901

10. Kramer, A.F., Hahn, S., Cohen, N.J., Banich, M.T., McAuley, E., Harrison, C.R., et al. (1999). Ageing, fitness and neurocognitive function. Nature, 400, 418-419. doi:10.1038/22682

11. Colcombe, S., & Kramer, A.F. (2003). Fitness effects on the cognitive function of older adults. Psychological Science, 14, 125-130. doi:10.1111/1467-9280t01-1-01430  

12. Grego, F., Vallier, J.M., Collardeau, M., Rousseu, C., Cremieux, J., & Brisswalter, J. (2005). Influence of exercise duration and hydration status on cognitive function during prolonged cycling exercise. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 26, 27-33. Doe:10.1055/s-2004-817915

13. Pereira, A.C., Huddleston, D.E., Brickman, A.M., Sosunov, A.A., Hen, R., McKhann, G.M., et al. (2007). An in vivo correlate of exercise-induced neurogenesis in adult dentate gyrus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States, 104, 5638-5643. doi:10.1073/pnas.0611721104

14. Winter, B., Breitenstein, C., Mooren, F.C., Voelker, K., Fobker, M., Lechtermann, A., et al. (2007). High impact running improves learning. Neurobiology of Learning and  Memory, 87, 597-609. doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2006.11.003

15. Lista, I., & Sorrentino, G. (2010). Biological mechanisms of physical activity in preventing cognitive decline. Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, 30, 493-503. doi:10.1007/s10571-009-9488-x

16. Chieffi, S., Messina, G., Villano, L., Messina, A., Valenzano, A., Moscatelli, F., et al. (2017). Neuroprotective effects of physical activity: evidence from human and animal studies. Frontiers in Neurology, 8:188. doi:10.3389/fneur.2017.00188

17. Fernandes, J., Arida, R.M., & Gomez-Pinilla, F. ( 2017). Physical exercise as an epigenetic modulator of brain plasticity and cognition. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Review, 80, 443-456. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiorev.2017.06.012

18. Colberg, S.R., Somma, C.T., & Sechrist, S.R. (2008). Physical activity participation may offset some of the negative impact of diabetes on cognitive function. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 9, 434-438. Doi:10.1016/j.jamada.2008.03.014

19. Yaffe, K., Fiocco, A.J., Lindquist, K., Vittinghoff, E., Simonsick, E.M., Newman, A.B., et al. (2009). Predictors of maintaining cognitive  function in older adults: the Health ABC study. Neurology, 72, 2029-2035. Doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181a92c36

20. Hotting, K., & Roder, B. (2013). Bneficial effects of physical exercise on neuroplasticity and cognition. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Review, 37, 2243-2257. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiorev.2013.04.005

21. Niemann, C., Godde, B., Staudinger, U.M., & Voelcker-Rehage, C. (2014). Exercise-induced changes in basal ganglia volume and cognition in older adults. Neuroscience, 281, 147-163. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2014.09.033

22. Hollamby, A., Davelaar, E.J., & Cadar, D. (2017). Increased physical fitness is associated with higher executive functioning in people with dementia. Frontiers in Public Health, 5:346. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2017.00346

23. Mandolesi, L., Gelfo, F., Serra, L., Montuori, S., Polverino, A., Curcio, G., et al.  (2017). Environmental factors promoting neural plasticity: insights from animal and human studies. Neural Plasticity, 2017, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2017/7219461

24. Ross, C., & Hayes, D. (1988). Exercise and psychological well-being in the community. American Journal of Epidemiology, 127, 762-771

25. Stephens, T. (1988). Physical activity and mental health in the United States and Canada: evidence from four population surveys. Preventive Medicine, 17, 35-47

26. Paffenbarger, R., Lee, L., & Leung, R. (1994). Physical activity and personal characteristics associated with depression and suicide among American college men. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica Supplementum, 377, 16-22

27. Centers for Disease Control. (2004). Effects of physical activity on health and disease: a report from the Surgeon General. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/sgr/prerep.htm

28. McAuley, E., & Rudolph, D. (1995). Physical activity, aging, and psychological well-being. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 3, 67-96

29. McLafferty, C., Wetzstein, C., & Hunter, G. (2004). Resistance training is associated with improved mood in healthy older adults. Perception and  Motor Skills, 93(3), 947-957.

30. Allen, J. (1996). Coronary risk factor modification in women after coronary artery bypass surgery. Nursing Research, 45(5), 260-265.

31. Blair, S.N. (1994). Physical activity, fitness and coronary heart disease. In Bouchard, C., Shepherd, R.J., & Stephens, T (Eds.), Physical activity, fitness and health: international proceedings and consensus statement (pp. 579-590). Champaign, Il:Human Kinestics.

32. Adler, A.I., Stratton, I.M., Neil, H.A., Yudkin, J.S., Matthews, D.R., Cull, C.A., et al. (2000). Association of systolic blood pressure with macrovascular  and microvascular complications of type 2 diabetes (UKPDS 36): prospective observational study. British Medical Journal, 321, 412-419. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7258.412

33. Uusitupa, M., Louheranta, A., Lindstrom, K., Valle, T., Sundvall, J., Ericksson, J., & Tuomilehto, J.  (2000). The Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study. The British Journal of Nutrition, 83, Suppl 1:S 137-142.

34. Magnusson, C., Baron, J., Persson, I., Wolk, A., Bergstrom, R., Trichopoulos, D., Adami, H.O.  (1998). Body size in different periods of life and breast cancer risk in post-menopausal women. International Journal of Cancer, 76, 29-34.