Strong body, strong mind. More evidence shows that exercise improves cognitive skills. This article published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease demonstrated that Tai chi improved memory and thinking and was associated with an increased brain size (brain volume) in Chinese seniors who performed Tai chi three times a week. Our previous post, “Strength Training and Memory Loss”, discussed how strength training improved memory.
Should these findings be surprising based on all the other health benefits of exercise? Probably not. What’s good for the body is good for the brain and vice versa.
Why Tai Chi is Good for Memory and Brain Vitality
Our brain, that computer in the skull, is metabolically active. Though the brain represents 2% of total body weight, it consumes 20% of the oxygen and 25% of glucose utilization. Exercise improves blood flow and better blood flow means better delivery of oxygen and nutrients to our most vital organ.
Exercise lowers cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease risk factors like hypertension that is damaging to the brain, and exercise improves insulin sensitivity which is associated with better neuro-cognitive function.
Learning new skills seems to protect neuro-cognitive impairment. Strength training and Tai chi both require learning new patterns of movement and neuromuscular control. The authors of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease study suggested that increase in growth factors (brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) associated with exercise may also explain how Tai chi improves memory and thinking.
Exercise lowers anxiety and depression which adversely effect brain function and performance. Exercise provides a means for social interaction, and social interaction is linked to improved brain vitality.
The Brain is Plastic
We’re beginning to learn that the brain is plastic. This means that the brain can repair or remodel itself, and adapt or change. These studies on exercise and brain function support this new-found realization. Previously, it was once thought that the brain could not repair itself, or readily adapt.
The brain is the “last frontier” and we are far from understanding how the brain completely works and how disease interferes with its many functions. Yet, important strides are made daily leading to better and innovative treatments for the central nervous system. Already stem cell treatments are now being used in stroke management and in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
Try Tai chi to improve your memory and maintain brain vitality be engaging in regular exercise.
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