This exercise was one of the most popular ways to enhance cognitive performance, mood and neuroplasticity.
In recent years, research has confirmed that chronic sitting is a bad thing for us. Excessive sitting was associated with early mortality, accounting for almost 4% of deaths worldwide per annum.
One study from Utah University has found that the risk of early death decreases dramatically (by 33 percent) for only two minutes of walking per hour. In contrast, a study from the University of Cambridge found that an hour of moderate-intensity exercise per day eliminated the risk of early death.
For the brain, exercise could also be regarded as a panacea, validated continuously by studies on brain function and brain health. It is a medicine that coats our vulnerable organs with a chemical cocktail of "intelligent" molecules, from powerful antioxidants to nerve growth factors.
All right, so on exercise, you're sold. Where are we beginning?
It is possible to train two major energy systems — aerobic and anaerobic.
To make things easier, aerobic exercise resembles long cycling or walks, while heavy weight lifting and sprinting are usually considered anaerobic exercises. Consider the anaerobic as burning fat and aerobic as burning sugar. Aerobic training increases your heart rate and can last for a long time. The vast majority of the day, you work in an aerobic state. Aerobic exercise increases your metabolism intensity and demand but under similar metabolic conditions.
Low and Slow!
Long brisk walk
Every kind of workout helps boost your blood flow to the brain, where oxygen and nutrients are desperately needed. Aerobic exercise was also found to boost the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF for the brain is similar to fertilizer for plants in that it helps them grow.
A seminal study released in 2011 involved 120 healthy adult subjects; half regularly performed an aerobic exercise three times a week over one year. With an MRI, scientists saw that the aerobic exercise group saw a 2% increase in the hippocampus than at the beginning of the study.
Before you mock what might appear to be a very modest increase, the hippocampus usually loses volume, around 1 - 2% every year after age 50. And this occurred in the control group, as seen on their MRI scans. As the researchers noted, aerobic workout reversed the normal loss of the hippocampus. Research has shown that we are increasing our minds to be more resilient to psychological stress by strengthening this memory structure with training.
In a 2013 study, researchers sought to answer this question and ultimately found that sedentary persons with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) improved their brain cells' memory and efficiency after only three regular exercise months. The study also included a group of people who experienced similar benefits. Moreover, the subjects improved their cardiorespiratory fitness by 10 percent, suggesting significant cognitive gains for a relatively small increase in fitness.
A study in 2015 found that exercise increases our cortex's size, the brain's external layer that dramatically shrinks in late-stage Alzheimer's disease, for both healthy older people and patients with MCI. Participants who demonstrated the most significant fitness improvements had the most cortical layer growth. Such studies are essential since MCI is considered a critical stage in cognitive decline, leading to Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.
While the primary way to strengthen the brain with new brain cells is through aerobic activity, anaerobic exercise ensures healthy and metabolically efficient cells. In contrast to hourly aerobic activity (light to moderate intensity), anaerobic metabolism modes are experienced in explosions. They are obtained with the physical activity performed at much greater power and therefore not sustainable for prolonged periods of time.
Hard and Fast!
All types of “burst” exercise (such as sprints, vigorous biking, rowing, battle ropes)
Heavy weight lifting
Steep hill climbing
One of the main advantages of anaerobic practice is muscle growth. For weight maintenance, this is particularly useful. While anaerobic exercise burns far fewer calories than aerobic exercise (for example, on the long-term treadmill), building a little more muscle helps with weight-loss in the long term. This is because the more muscle you have on your body, the more work you can do, the more intensity you can do and the greater the number of calories you can absorb without storing them as body fat. You empty the carbs stored in the muscles and turn your body into an energy sponge every time you reach a lactate threshold when your workouts start to flare up and tremble as you approach failure. This means that the carbohydrate can be transferred to your muscle cells, where it is kept while you eat rice or sweet potato, waiting for the next workout. More muscle mass means more calories burned, even if you stay in line to check-out at the supermarket.
However, pushing you up to your physiological limits gives you advantages far beyond achieving that beach body. You feel the burden of increased demand for your mitochondria at a microscopic stage. This is partly due to the growth in the production of a normal by-product of metabolism, reactive oxygen species (ROS) or free radicals. We want to keep these free radicals minimal under normal circumstances. Still, in the case of exercise, their increase acts as a robust signaling mechanism that sets the tide of events at the genetic and cellular levels designed to protect us and increase our resilience to future stress.
Adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase or AMPK is an enzyme that becomes activated during anaerobic activity. Known as the metabolic master switch, AMPK signals mitochondria to increase fat burning and glucose uptake and clear up cellular waste.
Enabling AMPK is such a powerful way of increasing cellular vigor that metformin (a common anti-diabetes drug) is now being investigated as a neuroprotective or anti-ageing agent because it stimulates AMPK. However, you don't need medicines and their potential side effects to activate AMPK, as short explosions of intense activity make it useful. Preliminary research suggests that early Alzheimer's disease symptoms can improve and reduce your risk of developing them.
One of the important ways for AMPK to improve your metabolism is to create additional mitochondria through the mitochondrial biogenesis process. Having more mitochondria is considered generally good. We know this because mitochondria count and function are decreased in sedentary behavior and ageing. We increase fitness and metabolic health by creating new mitochondria within our muscles. An increase in mitochondria also improves insulin sensitivity, which helps reverse insulin resistance (along with dietary changes).
However, AMPK does not only spur this dramatic increase of mitochondria in our muscle tissue. It also does it in our fat cells, a process known as browning. Brown fat mitochondria-rich fat tissue once believed to be present only in newborns, mainly using calories to warm us up if we get a little chilly (a thermogenesis process).
In animal research, exercise-led mitochondrial biogenesis has been shown to occur in brain cells. This has obvious implications in combating mental fatigue and cognitive ageing and neurodegenerative diseases involving mitochondrial dysfunction, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and ALS. That may explain why a large twin study by King's College London has shown that leg strength is strongly linked to brain volume.
This is why anaerobic exercise is a crucial part of the equation of brain health and optimization. In an interview with ScienceNews, Arthur Weltman, head of the exercise physiology laboratory at the University of Virginia, said it is best: "For physiological systems to adapt, they need to be overloaded." This means heavy weight lifting and all-out sprints are a good opportunity to optimize your cognitive function.
Reference: the Genius food novel