By Rachel Welch
Exercise is great for the body and the brain! In addition to providing increased muscular strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular benefits, exercise helps our minds perform better. Regular exercise has the potential to reduce depression, anxiety, and the shrinkage of the brain's grey matter that comes with age. Additionally, exercise may help us banish brain fog once and for all.
Perhaps you've seen commercials for allergy medications, referring to the person "living in a cloud." Brain fog can feel a little bit like this. Brain fog can lead to forgetfulness, lapses in memory, immense fatigue, and feeling "detached" from the present moment. While brain fog is not a disease or illness, it is an unpleasant side-effect of some health issues. For some individuals, brain fog may be caused by allergies, hormonal changes, physical illness, sleep changes, or mental health challenges like anxiety or depression.
Alternatively, brain fog may be a result of a vitamin or nutrient deficiency (1). For instance, we know that activated B vitamins (especially B-12) are particularly helpful in maintaining proper brain function. With the potential to improve energy, mental clarity, and mood, B vitamins are a great supplement to help combat brain fog. Also, vitamin D is one nutrient that facilitates the creation of new connections in the brain. If you are lacking in vitamin D, symptoms might include decreased memory and depression (2). Supplements may help combat brain fog on their own and can be even more beneficial when paired with exercise.
Several studies suggest that exercise is a great way to combat brain fog, likely due to its ability to help us manage stress. Our bodies release the stress hormone, cortisol during moments of stress. While you likely know that stress is "bad," you might be surprised to learn just how damaging it can be.
Frequent doses of cortisol can wreak havoc on our brains if we don't address it. Neuroplasticity tells us that the connections in our brains change and solidify based on repeated patterns. Patterns of thought, behavior, and emotionality can all further solidify our neural connections. This means that if someone engages in frequent stressful thinking, or if they maintain a high level of stress most of the time, their brain can be physically changed.
Several studies confirm that chronic stress impairs the brain in many ways. It can disrupt synapse regulation, kill brain cells, and even cause the size of our brain to change in certain areas. Chronic stress over time can shrink the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain which helps us with memory and learning) and may enlarge the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for "fight or flight," fear, and emotional reactivity). Knowing the negative impact of chronic stress can surely motivate us to develop healthy habits to de-stress (3).
As mentioned previously, exercise is an excellent way to combat brain fog. We also know that physical exercise is one of the few proven ways to preserve brain size as we age (4). But what kind of exercise is best?
Aerobic exercise such as running, swimming, and even weight training is proven to be highly beneficial for our brain health. Exercise like this, which gets your heart pounding, pushes extra blood and oxygen to the brain. This is very helpful in improving our brain health. Many researchers suggest that heart-pounding, active movement may be the best remedy for preserving brain health into older age. Some recommend a combination of aerobic and weight training exercises for a good balance of routine (5).
Meditation has become a fascinating focus of study related to brain health. There are already thousands of studies that confirm the brain-changing benefits of meditation, and more research emerges every year. One study confirmed that 8 weeks of practicing meditation led to increased thickness in areas of the brain related to learning and memory and a decreased size of the amygdala (fight or flight, fear, anxiety). This is exciting research because it means that we have proven that meditation is a powerful and reliable tool for combating brain fog. Furthermore, it can help to reverse the negative impact of chronic stress on our brains that we discussed above (6). To get started on meditating, visit Insight Timer, Headspace, or the Calm app to try some introductory lessons and guided meditations.
Yoga is another exercise that can be helpful in reducing brain fog. With practices that focus on breathing into each movement, yoga helps to provide extra oxygen to the body and brain. Also, many yoga movements facilitate grounding behaviors, which help to bring us into the present moment. As brain fog often tries to pull us into a cloud, yoga helps to bring our awareness back to the body and the breath.
Additionally, some yoga practices work to stimulate the vagus nerve, which is a component of our parasympathetic nervous system and runs all the way from the brain stem to the colon. Some research suggests that vagus nerve stimulation can directly impact gastrointestinal (GI) and mental health as well (7).
There are various forms of exercise which can help combat brain fog, and which can work to reverse the effects of chronic stress! Whether you choose aerobic exercise, meditation, or yoga, know that you are doing your body and brain a healthy favor. If you choose to pair supplements with your exercise regimen, Health By Principle offers all-natural, organic, premium supplements that can help balance your routine.
With one mindful, healthy choice at a time, we can work to banish brain fog and improve our health and well-being.
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