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Exercise Brings Big Brain Benefits

November 17th, 2014

Exercise can help keep you mentally and physically fit as you age.

Exercise isn’t just about physical fitness. According to a growing body of research, exercise also has an impact on brain chemistry and brain function, spelling big benefits for individuals looking to keep both brain and body healthy as they age. Here are the top 3 brain benefits associated with healthy exercise.

Reduced Stress

Excessive stress can be very harmful for just about every system in the body, and is one of the top causes of rapid aging. The good news is that exercise can not only help you feel more relaxed, but also help repair stress-related damage on a cellular level so you look younger too. In a study from the University of California San Francisco that compared signs of cellular aging in stressed-out individuals, researchers found that after just 3 days, individuals who exercised showed fewer signs of cellular aging compared to those who did not. They also found that the exercise was changing blood flow in the brain areas associated with ruminating on stressful thoughts, further helping to break the cycle of stress and cellular damage.

Better Mood

Exercise can also improve mood, not only by releasing soothing chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, but also by serving an antidepressant. In fact, research suggests that exercising vigorously 3 times per week is nearly as effective in fighting depression as an antidepressant medication. Experts suspect this is because exercise stimulates the growth of neurons in brain regions damaged by depression, and also boosts the production of brain molecules that help improve connections between nerve cells.

Improved Memory & Cognitive Function

Exercising regularly helps boost the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain associated with both memory and learning. According to the Alzheimer’s Research Center, this is very important news for individuals suffering from age-related memory decline. The hippocampus is the among the first brain region to display damage in an Alzheimer’s patient, and by protecting this part of the brain symptoms of Alzheimer’s may be staved off. One Dutch study found that among men who were genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s, those who did not exercise were 4 times more likely to develop the disease than those who worked out on a regular basis. Research has also shown that exercise increases the amount of growth factors, or brain chemicals that help forge new connections between brain cells, to further improve memory and learning. For this brain benefit, exercise that requires coordination and mental effort such as tennis or dance is more beneficial than straight cardio.

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