The Surprising Power of “Miracle Grow” (On Your Brain!)

What if you could counter the effects of aging on the brain–loss of blood flow and oxygen to the area, a decrease in brain volume and the death of brain cells? And what if you could do that all without medication?

Protect your brain from the ravages of aging.
Protect your brain from the ravages of aging.

Interested (who wouldn’t be)? Read on…

The Aging Brain
Scientists once believed that our number of brain cells remained unchanged after early childhood. But one of the most exciting discoveries of the past few decades is a field called “neuroplasticity”–the brain is actually more changeable than we thought previously.

As mentioned above, aging leads to a decrease of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the brain, and a drop in the number of brain cells (neurons) and all-important connections between them (synapses). Simply put, the stresses of everyday living can cause neurons and synapses to decay, leading to most brain dysfunction or dementias.

And this results in huge problems. Researchers say one new case of dementia is detected every four seconds globally. They estimate that by the year 2050, more than 115 million people will have dementia worldwide. The most common, and dreaded, form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Nearly 47 million people have AD, and that number is expected to triple by year 2050. With no cure and no definitive diagnostic tool, AD is one of the biggest fears of Baby Boomers today.

The Brain/Chronic Disease Connection
If you think about it, the blood that runs through your brain passes through your heart and other critical organs. So it makes sense that what’s good for many chronic diseases is likewise good for the brain.

Therefore, many lifestyle factors that reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes also reduce risk for age-related mental decline:

  • people who are obese are twice as likely to have dementia
  • those with heart disease are at far greater risk for Alzheimers
  • those with diabetes have a 65% higher risk of developing dementia
  • high cholesterol increases risk by 43%

This Is Your Brain on Exercise!
We’ve known for years that exercise supports the brain in many ways:

  • Physical activity improves mood and sleep, reduces stress and anxiety–all of which can contribute to mental decline.
  • It increases the heart rate to bring more oxygen to the brain.
  • It helps decrease the risk of diabetes by allowing for better insulin usage.
  • Exercise reduces inflammation, which is connected with most chronic diseases.

But what’s excited researchers most is that exercise actually changes the structure of the brain–stimulating new synapses, generating new blood vessels and brain cells (neuroplasticity). Physical activity stimulates the release of growth factors and natural proteins that help protect the brain.

One of most powerful is brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, present in the hippocampus–the area of brain related to memory and learning. Exercise increases the production of BDNF (nicknamed “Miracle Grow for your brain” by John J. Ratey, M.D., author of Spark, the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain)–thus encouraging new neurons to grow and protecting them from death.

Researchers now believe that all exercise increases the amount of protective factors. Many feel both cardiovascular (aerobic) and strength training activities are needed for optimal brain health, as various types of exercise may benefit different proteins in different areas of the brain.

It’s another reason to get out and move–no excuses!

For more information on fitness and aging, contact me for a complementary consultation.

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