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Lifestyle

January 22, 2014

Exercise benefits the brain, too

Regular exercise can benefit the body in many ways, helping people maintain healthier weights and lowering risks for developing potentially deadly diseases. Though many people are quick to associate exercise with its physical benefits, those hours spent on the treadmill also can boost brain power.

According to Dr. Barry Gordon, professor of neurology and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and coauthor of “Intelligent Memory: Improve the Memory That Makes You Smarter,” exercise has a direct impact on the brain. That’s because exercise works directly on brain tissue, improving the connections between nerve cells, creating new synapses, growing new neurons and blood vessels, and improving cell energy efficiency. So while many people may begin an exercise regimen with a goal of trimming their waistlines or toning their bodies, they might be happy to know that those physical benefits are accompanied by several cognitive benefits as well.

As the American Psychological Association acknowledges, the connection between exercise and mental health is hard to ignore, and the APA notes that the following are just a few of the mental benefits men and women might reap from regular exercise.

Improved mood

Many people feel great after exercising, especially if that exercise comes at the end of a particularly stressful day. However, those extra laps on the track or those hours spent on the treadmill don’t just pay short-term dividends. In a controlled trial overseen by Duke University researcher and clinical psychologist James Blumenthal, sedentary adults with major depressive disorder were assigned into one of four groups: supervised exercise, home-based exercise, antidepressant therapy, or a placebo pill. Those in the exercise and antidepressant groups had higher rates of remission than those in the placebo group, and Blumenthal concluded that exercise was generally comparable to antidepressants for men and women with major depressive disorder. In addition, in following up with patients a year later, Blumenthal found that those who continued to exercise had lower depression scores than those participants who were less active.

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