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How Exercise Helps Improve Memory and Cognitive Function

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How Exercise Helps Improve Memory and Cognitive Function

From controlling weight to reducing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, there are plenty of benefits to staying physically active. But did you know physical activity can also improve brain health, memory and cognitive function?

Researchers have found aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart pumping, has a positive effect on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Exercise stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain that promote the growth of brain cells and new blood vessels. Regular exercise can also help improve sleep and help reduce anxiety and stress, all factors that can impact cognitive function. 

“During physical activity, a constant communication exists between the brain and the muscles as signals are sent back and forth between the two systems,” explains Carla Sottovia, PhD, Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer. “There is an increase in circulation and therefore, more oxygen transported within the musculoskeletal system and the brain. The increased blood flow helps bring important nutrients to the brain and stimulates parts of the brain that would otherwise be in a constant state of rest.”

How to Exercise Your Brain

“Agility exercises (moving side to side) and activities that challenge balance and coordination are best,” says David P. Williams, MS, Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer. 

Try dancing. It’s considered one of the best exercises for the brain.

“A cardio dance class, such as Zumba®, involves choreography that you need to remember throughout the class, which challenges your brain,” says Sottovia. Boot camp-type classes or tai chi classes that involve change in direction and speed are also extremely beneficial.

“The brain, like any other tissue and organ in the body, is active and needs nourishment and stimulation to function at its best. Like our muscles, the brain needs to be trained to reach a high state of fitness and function,” explains Sottovia. 

Additional Benefits of Staying Active 

In addition to the direct impact exercise has on your brain, simply staying active, getting up and going to the gym, requires socialization and interaction with others, which can help keep your brain healthy. “As you age, you still need to challenge yourself with learning, reading, social skills and projects to keep your brain active and cognitive skills sharp,” says Williams. 

It’s important to note that taking care of your brain means more than just squeezing in a workout here and there. “Take time, slow down and breathe,” says Williams. “When you go to the gym, remember to leave everything behind. Try to clear your mind, stop multitasking and focus on the exercise you’re doing and execute it as best as you possibly can.”

For more information about personal training, visit or call 972.233.4832 for more details.

Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.