Exercise for Healthy Brains – Exercise Right (Part 1)

May 12, 2021 8:03 am Published by


In the first of three blog articles celebrating the lead up to Exercise Right week, one of BallyCara’s esteemed Exercise Physiologists, Elise Edwards, details how exercise can keep you mentally healthy.


Happiness and fulfilment can ultimately be achieved through a life that is lived well; but how can you ensure your life is well lived? By maintaining a healthy and active one being able to enjoy life’s pleasures! We all know that exercise is one of the main ways to improve your health and wellbeing as we age. Exercise not only has it’s physical benefits to improve cardiorespiratory fitness but has shown to prevent and recover from a number of chronic conditions. There has been extensive research into physical exercise for a healthy brain. But what type of exercise will have the best effect?


Types of Exercise

Whether you have had a brain injury, a stroke, been diagnosed with dementia, or even just want to maintain or improve your brain health, regular exercise has shown to physically change the structure of the brain to improve memory and thinking skills. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to decrease inflammation and release growth factors (which improve the health of brain cells and blood vessels in the brain). There has even been some new research into the intensity of exercise and preventing the onset of dementia.


Aerobic Exercise

At the time of writing, aerobic exercise has been research more extensively in the field of brain health. With the addition of improved heart health and endurance, aerobic exercise (including walking, swimming or cycling) has also shown to foster new brain cell growth and preserve existing cells. It is recommended that you participate in 30mins on most days of the week. A good cue to how hard you should be working is that you should be able to talk but too out of breath to sing while exercising. Research has shown that repetitive exercise can assist with improve “neuroplasticity” or “creating new neural pathways” in the brain. Norman Doige has written a fantastic book called The Brain That Changes Itself, which discusses neuroplasticity providing hope to those with mental limitations.


Resistance Training

There has also been some solid research into resistance training and brain health. As we know, strength training not only builds muscle and strengthens bones, but it can also boost brain power, enhance concentration, and increase decision making skills. It is recommended that you participate in strength training 2-3 x weekly with a combination of functional muscle groups exercised.


Other Training

Although there hasn’t been specific research into flexibility and balance exercises and brain health, there are a multitude of benefits if performed correctly. Research has shown that performing new activities and learning new things keeps the brain active. Improved balance and flexibility have shown to make daily activities easier and develop mobility. Exercises can include things like Tai Chi or other balance specific exercises. If you’re tech-savvy, there are even some cool apps to assist with brain health and balance – like Clock Yourself. This app encourages you to think on your feet and react quickly to various activities. Be sure to check in with your exercise physiologist what type or combination of exercises are right for you!


Check out these resources for the latest information on dementia or strokes. For more information, contact your health care practitioner, or visit Exercise is Medicine Australia to view the public fact sheets for Exercising with Mental Health Conditions.


To find out more about the BallyCara Wellness Program, and how BallyCara can support you to exercise right, click here.




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This post was written by Lachlan Green

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