Exercising for better brain health

June 7, 2023

When we talk about the benefits of exercise, we tend to focus on physical health – it helps us improve our cardiovascular fitness, strengthen our bones and muscles, and reduce the risk for various diseases. But while exercise is essential for keeping our bodies healthy, there is also a strong connection between being active and the health of our brain.  

Exercise and your brain

Studies show that engaging in moderate to high-intensity exercise, such as jogging or riding a bike, plays a crucial role in protecting us from age-related brain decline and neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.  

“Physical activity contributes to increased blood flow and blood oxygenation levels – which our brain needs big time,” says Florent Thézard, wellness program leader at Manitoba Blue Cross and certified athletic therapist.  

Oxygen is critical for our brain to function effectively. When we exercise, the increased amount of oxygen, nutrients and special chemicals called “growth factors” help our brain cells to grow, connect, and communicate with each other. This improves our memory, our ability to focus and our capacity to learn.  

So how often do you need to be active for your body and brain to reap these benefits? The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) recommends at least 30 minutes of cardio activity, five times a week. And as the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life, so try to switch up the types of activities you do.

Get moving

Thézard offers some simple advice on how to stay active, for any fitness level:

  • Start small and keep it convenient. You don’t need to commit to running a marathon right away. Incorporating little actions at home, such as bodyweight squats in between episodes of your favourite show, is a great way to progressively build positive habits.  
  • Find something you enjoy. If you are struggling to get started, try activities that make you feel good. Playing a round of golf can make it easy to forget you’re expending energy and might be more appealing than “just” walking.
  • Get creative! Standing on one leg while putting socks on or while brushing your teeth will help improve your balance. Seemingly simple movements like this can help you build a strong base and work towards more intensive activities.

Whether you are going for a run or tending to the garden, regular exercise can keep both your brain and your body in great shape. So, get moving and remember that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind.  

If you would like to improve your health and well-being, explore our new wellness plan. Our wellness plan offers a range of proactive and preventive online tools that puts your holistic wellness at the forefront.  

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