Have you ever noticed that after a long day of driving in the RV, you feel foggy-brained and fuzzy? That’s your brain letting you know it hasn’t had any movement, and it doesn’t like it. Your brain and your muscles have one thing in common: you either use it or you lose it. But you can actually boost your brainpower by lacing your athletic shoes up and moving your body…which leads to a plethora of positive molecular and behavioral benefits in the brain.
1. It spurs brain growth:
Our brain volume actually shrinks as we age. In fact, starting at age 60, our hippocampus region (key to memory forming), diminishes 1-2% each year. Yes, your brain shrinks. Even more sobering, starting at age 40, our overall brain volume drops an average of 5% each decade. Hey, I love losing weight as much as the next gal, but from my brain? Uh, no.
Luckily, there’s a way to reverse brain shrinkage and increase hippocampus volume. One study of healthy but sedentary people aged 60 to 79 done at the University of Illinois showed that participants had significant increases in the size of their hippocampus after six months of aerobic fitness training. Instead of shrinking 1-2% each year, exercise actually GREW their hippocampus by 1-2% each year! That’s awesome, because we need those little seahorse-shaped parts in our heads to be in tip-top shape. They are responsible for consolidating our short-term and long-term memory…and I like knowing where my keys are.
And those of you doing Sudoku’s for 30 minutes each morning, pay attention to this. A recent study in the journal Neurology found that physical exercise trumps mental exercise in beating brain shrinkage. Pencils down, friends, and lace those athletic shoes up.
2. It helps lift your mood:
Exercise revs up the body’s production of serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals crucial to feeling happy and relaxed. And we can’t talk about exercise’s mood-boosting qualities without mentioning endorphins. Endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in our brains, not only trigger positive feelings, they also diminish one’s perception of pain. Many studies show that people who exercise regularly have lower incidences of pain. We can thank endorphins for that. The body releases endorphins in spades as we exercise. Exercise has also been shown to lower cortisol levels, the so-called stress hormone. High cortisol levels can make you feel foggy, scatterbrained, and tired. Lower cortisol levels, higher endorphins, and clearer thinking…all lead to a happier brain. Thank you, exercise.
3. It keeps you sharp as a tack:
Many studies have shown that exercise increases your cognitive abilities; things like being able to focus on complex tasks, to organize, to find things, and to plan for future events (like your next RV trip!). Reader’s Digest had an interesting article about some studies that found that people aged 55 to 80 who did regular exercise performed four times better on cognitive tests than control groups who were sedentary. Four times! Couch potatoes, beware! You don’t want to go against me next trivia night at the RV park.
There you have it! Three more reasons to get your body moving and keep exercise a non-negotiable part of your day. After all, who doesn’t want to be smarter, happier, and able to find their keys?!?
See you on the road, RV friends!