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    We Know Exercise Benefits Our Brain, but How Exactly?

    In our practice, we emphasize the importance of a holistic approach, which includes physical activity. Understanding how exercise benefits the brain can help you support your child’s development more effectively. Here’s why exercise is essential for cognitive and mental health, and how to make the most of these benefits.

    The Power of Physical Activity

    Henriette van Praag, an associate professor of biomedical science, discovered that exercise can spur the growth of new brain cells. This insight has transformed how we view physical activity’s potential to enhance brain health.

    It was found that regular exercise promotes neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells), which is critical for learning and memory. The study, along with many others, suggests that physical activity increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the survival and growth of neurons, particularly in the hippocampus, an area associated with memory and learning.

    Short-Term Cognitive Boosts

    Studies show that immediately after physical activity, children perform better on tests of working memory and other executive functions. Exercise increases the release of neurotransmitters like epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are crucial for attention and cognitive performance.

    Long-Term Cognitive Benefits

    Consistent exercise over time offers significant cognitive benefits. Research indicates that children who engage in regular physical activity score higher on cognitive tests than their sedentary peers.

    Cognitive function improves by increasing brain plasticity, enhancing synaptic connections, and promoting angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels) in the brain. These changes support better problem-solving skills, memory retention, and overall brain health.

    Emotional and Mental Health

    Regular exercise is linked to better overall mental health and can be an effective treatment for depression. Encouraging your child to stay active can help them manage stress and emotions more effectively.

    Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins and serotonin, neurotransmitters that regulate mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Regular physical activity helps balance these chemicals, leading to improved emotional well-being and resilience.

    Protection Against Neurodegenerative Diseases

    Exercise is one of the most beneficial behaviors for cognitive function and reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. 

    Physical activity helps protect against neurodegenerative diseases by reducing inflammation, improving metabolic health, and promoting neuroplasticity. These effects are crucial for maintaining cognitive function.  

    The Science Behind Exercise and Brain Health

    When we exercise, our muscles release molecules that travel to the brain, improving blood flow and stimulating the growth of new blood vessels and neurons. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (B.D.N.F.), a hormone released during exercise, is essential for neuron health and creating new connections in the brain. This process is particularly beneficial for the hippocampus, an area crucial for memory and mood.

    Increased blood flow during physical activity enhances nutrient and oxygen delivery to the brain, promoting neuronal health and cognitive function.

    Practical Tips for Parents:

    1. Encourage Regular Physical Activity: Ensure your child engages in regular aerobic exercise, such as running, biking, or swimming.

    2. Integrate Exercise into Daily Routines: Make physical activity a natural part of your family’s daily routine.  

    3. Set Achievable Goals: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, as recommended by health experts.

    4. Make it Fun: Find activities your child enjoys to foster a lifelong love of exercise.

    5. Model Healthy Habits: Demonstrate the importance of physical activity through your actions.

    Further Reading

    For more detailed insights, you can explore the following resources: