Exercise, Nutrition & the Brain
Physical activity has been associated with the reduction of a number of physical and mental disorders. There is now ample evidence that physical activity will decrease the incidence of cardiovascular disease, colon and breast cancer and obesity, but also diseases such as Alzheimer’s, depression and anxiety (Gómez-Pinilla, 2011; Van Praag, 2009). A number of large, prospective and cross-sectional observational studies find that the dietary profile benefiting cognitive function with aging contains weekly servings (2 – 5) of fish and multiple daily servings of cereals, darkly or brightly colored fruits and leafy vegetables (Parrott & Greenwood, 2007). Both diet and exercise have therefore been used as interventions to reverse the possible negative effect of ageing in brain function. This paper will describe how exercise and nutrition can influence brain development, brain performance and cognition (e.g., remembering things, like where did I park my car at the airport?).
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
Nutrition provides building blocks for the brain. Cognitive performance (e.g., mathematical thinking, simple addition problems) is better in children after a breakfast compared to the fasted state. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that specific nutrients such as flavonoids and other polyphenols may be capable of counteracting age-related neuronal and cognitive decline. Exercise training in elderly people increases the size of the hippocampus (an area of the brain that is important for memory). Exercise positively influences neurotrophic factors (such as BDNF) leading to better learning and memory. Today, there is no convincing evidence that ingesting branched chain amino acids during prolonged exercise can postpone “central” fatigue. The ergogenic effect of carbohydrates during exercise is also present when washing the mouth with a CHO solution.
Exercise and nutrition clearly are both powerful means to positively influence the brain. We are only at the start of exploring what really happens in the brain during exercise, but it is clear that physical activity and nutrition have health-enhancing effects on the brain. In the near future, nutritional interventions will also focus on brain activity during exercise.
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