Emerging research suggests that exercise is just as important for your mind as it is for your body. Numerous studies find that different types of exercise affect the brain in an equally varied number of ways. Both promote cognitive function and preserving brain health. Let’s discuss the science behind this research and dive into a few examples that have positive implications for productivity.
What Science Says…
Studies show exercise can increase the presence of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in the brain. BDNF is a critical protein for the brain’s ability to heal, adapt, learn, and form memories. Until a study led by cell biologist Bruce Spiegelman, researchers remained uncertain about how exercise actually induces elevated levels of BDNF. Spiegelman and his team discovered that irisin, a hormone secreted by muscle cells after endurance exercise, is essentially a “chemical messenger” that promotes expression of BDNF, as well as genes linked to learning skills and memory formation. The discovery of irisin has enabled the scientific community to research the effect of exercise on cognitive function with more precision than ever.
A Georgia Institute of Technology study found that intense resistance training for periods as short as 20 minutes can boost episodic memory (memory of specific past events) by 10%. A study by David Jacobs linked aerobic fitness during one’s 20’s and increased memory performance later on in life. Two studies by the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois (one on children and one on adults age 60+) measured increased white matter integrity in those with higher levels of aerobic fitness. White matter has been deemed a “superhighway” connecting the brain’s regions; more compact white matter is associated with increased attention and faster cognitive function.
Exercise for Your Mind
While we still have years worth of research before we fully understand how exercise impacts the brain, it is clear that many forms of voluntary physical activity enhance mental performance and protect against neurological disease. The latter is certainly an important trend for the 21st-century American worker. We see this as the average retirement age has slowly but steadily increased for the last two decades.
On a related note, exercising for 150 minutes per week improves sleep quality up to 65%. This is especially significant when considering that poor sleep quality may lead to long-term loss of grey matter. This important substance makes up brain regions responsible for muscle control, sensory perception, memory, and decision making. Furthermore, scientists attribute the lack of proper sleep with mental fatigue in the workplace than one’s actual workload. By boosting cognitive function and reducing mental fatigue, exercise can effectively lighten your workload without actually reducing your output!
We here at PerkSpot know that starting a new exercise routine can be a challenge. That’s why we offer PerkSpot Health and Wellness. Your employees save big on local gym memberships and nutrition programs, and your business benefits from healthier, happier workers!