Why a thriving brain needs a lifetime of exercise

We don’t give much thought to exercising for the sake of our brains (at least not until we’re old enough to worry about Alzheimer’s).  But there’s growing evidence that brains thrive on regular physical activity all the way from childhood to old age, say researchers at Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition.

Childhood and adolescence may turn out to be critical for influencing brain health in later life, says Dr Helen Macpherson whose recent review of research linking physical activity to brain health was published in Frontiers in Ageing Neuroscience. although we need more research to determine this.

“Physical activity in the early years may set up long term behaviours  that promote healthier brains over the lifespan. At any age it may be important to consider the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for maintaining a healthy brain, rather than focusing on the impact on our waistlines,” she points out.

Besides paying off with a lower risk of dementia and Parkinson’s disease in older age, a lifelong exercise habit – especially one that includes building strength – can benefit the brain at different life stages and even have direct effects on its structure and function.

These benefits may also be different depending on whether you’re a child, a mid-lifer or over 60, says Macpherson.

In childhood, for instance, there’s evidence that regular physical activity is good for young brains in ways that optimise the rapid development of brains at this age and may enhance learning.

“Imaging studies have found that in fitter children, the parts of the brain involved in attention and memory are larger and some studies have also found that more physically active teenagers have better academic outcomes,” she says.  

While there’s no evidence that being more physically active protects against ADHD, some studies have also shown a link between increased physical…

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