How to Exercise More Effectively for Better Brain Health

It’s undeniable that exercise improves overall well-being over a wide spectrum of functions, from immune response to cognitive performance. While most forms of exercise are beneficial to some degree, research has demonstrated that certain types and particular approaches to exercise may produce more fruitful results than others for various desired outcomes. For example, aerobic exercise such as walking, running and cycling result with more significant weight loss than swimming (1).

Consistent exercise contributes to disease prevention, by strengthening your muscles (especially your heart), lowering blood pressure and maintaining a healthy body weight. It alters production of certain biological chemicals and proteins that influence your immune system as well as every organ system whether directly or indirectly.

Any moderate exertion that increases heart rate when performed regularly possesses the potential to alter vital functions, such as reducing inflammation and increasing production of growth factors. Regular exercise also has been correlated to increases in brain chemicals associated with happiness, motivation and memory formation. Engaging in physical activity creates a steady increase in such chemicals which ultimately enhances cognitive performance on mental tasks as well as provides a mood boost.

Moreover, exercise increases learning and memory capabilities, protects the brain from degeneration and increases what’s called synaptic plasticity, or the brain’s ability to adapt and incorporate new information (2).

By itself, physical activity done faithfully possesses the capability of reversing minor ailments and preventing more severe illnesses (3). There are a few additional steps that can enhance the benefits of exercise, including:

1. Try moderate amounts of caffeine

Consuming caffeine 15 to 30 mins prior to working out leads to higher thresholds of exercise intensity, decreased sensitivity to fatigue and increased pain tolerance (4). It energizes your muscles allowing performance from cardiovascular to weight-bearing activities to heighten, as well as augments the ratio of fat burned.

Gains in physical performance then lead to gains in benefits achieved from exercise, including cognitive functioning.

2. Eat some beets right before working out

Beets are a low-calorie, nutrient-packed root with a high carbohydrate content. This provides your body with ideal energy it can access immediately. They also contain nitrate, which the body converts into nitric oxide so it can be utilized for cardiovascular and metabolic needs. Several studies have supported the notion that drinking beet juice shortly before working out not only improves your workout itself, but also improves your brain’s connectivity and cognitive functioning (5).

3. Time it with hormones

Your hormones naturally fluctuate throughout the day, week and month. Exercise immediately influences production of certain hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. These allow your body to focus its energy on muscles and systems necessary for physical activity, while temporarily suppressing other systems such as reproduction and even digestion that are not vital for exercise.

Another hormone relevant to exercise is cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Cortisol typically peaks in the morning and decreases throughout the day with mild fluctuations. Cardiovascular exercise was found to be most effective in the morning when cortisol levels were higher, whereas strength training has been implicated to be more effective in the evening when cortisol is lower (6).

4. Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep

Sleep is imperative for anything in life, and exercise and brain health are not exceptions. Simply ensuring you receive the recommended 7-8 hours per night can foster your brain’s ability to form connections and help your muscles recover.