Exercise for a super brain
Physical activity and sport are good for our health. Many of us agree with this statement, and yet, according to a survey by Sanitas Health Forecasts in 2022, only 27% of those asked ensure that they get sufficient exercise in their daily lives. What’s more, sport is frequently seen only as a weight-loss method. But physical activity can do so much more than that: in addition to external body changes, it can also influence our mental wellbeing and stimulate new braincell growth.
The multifaceted effects of movement
Regular physical activity is good for our sleep quality, our tolerance of stress and our self-esteem. In addition, it boosts our mood, acts as an antidepressant and enhances our wellbeing. And even that is not everything! Over the long term, enough exercise results in new cells growing in the brain. This cell growth is particularly evident in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. The hippocampus is hugely important for memory. The size of this brain part is increased by new cell growth, which results in a better memory and better learning performance, as well as increased attention and concentration. Both these brain areas are particularly susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases – that is, diseases in which brain cells decline more rapidly (such as dementia or Alzheimer’s). Physical activity, in this context, also has a protective function: if more brain cells are present, the decline takes longer and any disease symptoms manifest themselves later. Of course, it is also important to use your new cells. Otherwise, they will die off again.
Remember: when you exercise, you are not just boosting your wellbeing, you are also keeping your body and your brain in shape over the long term.
How much exercise do you need?
For exercise to fulfil its purpose, it is important that you get out of breath during your activity. That means that you must do enough to make it somewhat demanding. The Federal Office of Sport has put together recommendations for different groups of people (in German). We have extracted a few important points for you here:
- Moderate intensity activities: At least 2 hours 30 minutes of exercise per week. This can be everyday activities, or sport. Specifically: you should get at least a little out of breath, but you don’t necessarily need to break a sweat. Many everyday activities and sports are moderate intensity.
- High-intensity activities: 1 hour 15 minutes per week. During such activities, you should break at least a light sweat and your breathing should speed up.
- Frequency: It’s best when your total exercise is spread out over several days in the week. For example, 30 minutes of moderate intensity activities on five days.
What sort of activity could this be?
- Moderate intensity: cycling, brisk walking, gardening
- High intensity: jogging, swimming, cross-country skiing, cardio equipment in the gym
Recommendations for other groups of people
Remember: every activity, every form of exercise, is good for your health and your wellbeing. Every step away from inactivity is meaningful. It is also very important not to sit for a long time without getting up sometimes.
More exercise in winter
Sometimes, at the coldest time of the year, you don’t quite know how to get enough exercise during the week. That’s why it’s worth doing sport outdoors even in winter, and you can find out what your options are in Zug Canton from the Blog article “Outdoor Sport”.
“Exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain today.”
- Wendy Suzuki -
Di Liegro, C. M., Schiera, G., Proia, P., & Di Liegro, I. (2019). Physical activity and brain health. Genes, 10(9), 720. https://doi.org/10.3390/genes10090720
Erickson, K. I., Gildengers, A. G., & Butters, M. A. (2022). Physical activity and brain plasticity in late adulthood. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 99-108. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2013.15.1/kerickson
Krätzig, P. (2022). Schritt für Schritt zum Superhirn. In Der Sanitas Health Forecast (p. 239-243). Wörterseh.
Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen. (2019, 16 August). Die Wahrheit hinter der Bewegung – warum Sport so wichtig ist [Video]. Play SRF. https://www.srf.ch/play/tv/einstein/video/die-wahrheit-hinter-der-bewegung---warum-sport-so-wichtig-ist?urn=urn:srf:video:a8b3ca9d-65cc-4f96-a013-fcbdd698061a
Suzuki, W. (2018, February). The brain-changing benefits of exercise [Video]. TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/wendy_suzuki_the_brain_changing_benefits_of_exercise