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How Does Staying Active Benefit Your Brain Health?

Author:NeuroGym Team

Your Cognitive Ability Will Improve If You Keep Active

Do you ever notice some people stay very sharp mentally right into old age? They are still quick thinkers, quick-witted, and haven’t lost a step. How do they do it? Well, it turns out it’s likely down to a routine involving regular activity!

It turns out keeping consistently active throughout your days helps you stay healthy both physically and mentally. A large part of your cognitive health is down to keeping your brain active, whether it’s doing mental exercises, or just ticking items off your to-do list. The more we keep ourselves moving throughout the day, the better shape we stay in.

Let’s take a look at some of the science behind this.

The Science

A study by the University of Pittsburgh has provided evidence that older adults with a higher level of activity throughout the day generally have better mental health than those who are less active. The study was measuring traits associated with depression and any cognitive impairments in adults aged 65 or older. The results of the tests showed that disruptions in activity patterns can have a negative effect on cognitive abilities.

What this means is that when older people are consistently active throughout the day, as opposed to having irregular bursts of activity, they will generally have better mental health and greater cognitive ability. Three important points need to be taken into account here:

  • The time a person starts their day
  • How active they are throughout the day
  • Whether they have a consistent routine

On the first point, it’s been shown that when people consistently get up early they have healthier brain activity. There is also the benefit of having more exposure to daylight, which can help avoid or limit depression. As humans, we are designed to be more active during the day and sleep during the night, so thousands of years of evolution have led to us feeling better when we get up early in the morning.

The next point, staying active throughout the day, is crucial. The study showed that staying active for longer periods throughout the day was key to good mental and cognitive health. This was in contrast to people who ceased their activity earlier in the day.

Finally, having a consistent routine was also shown to be important. The study showed that a lot of adults have a fairly fixed routine, and that this was good for their mental health. And a good routine starts in the morning.

A Good Morning Routine

Getting up early is a challenge, but it can be done, and it is very beneficial. A good start to the day sets you up for a good day.

First of all, if you get up early in the morning, you won’t have to rush as much to get your day started. You will be able to ease into the day and get started on a productive, healthy day.

Part of having an active routine is fuel, and as they say, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. You should always aim to eat a healthy, nutritious breakfast, and thankfully there is a broad variety of great food you can choose from. 

It is a good idea to eat fiber in the morning to get your digestive system moving. A morning source of protein, such as nuts or eggs, is good for giving you energy throughout the day and helping you stay full. Which brings up a crucial point: If you eat a good breakfast, you are less likely to have cravings during the day and rely on snacking.

The morning is a good time to work too. There is evidence to suggest that the morning is the time where we are the most productive—and possibly more creative too! If you have a problem you need to solve, set some time aside to think about it in the morning, then move on with your day. You may feel like you are ignoring it, but in reality, your subconscious is still working in the background. By later in the day, you may have come up with a solution to your problem or at least a good idea. The morning is a good time to study for the same reason, as your brain is more active. Read something early in the day and you will have a higher level of cognitive function later on; your brain will be alert and ready for what the afternoon and evening have in store.

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So, now your belly is full, and your brain is awake, but what next? Well, there’s the importance of movement. There are many benefits to exercising in the morning. For one thing, if you get it done in the morning, whether it’s a workout, a walk, or a run, you won’t have it hanging over your head all day. If you leave your main exercise of the day until later, you will have to think about it all day, and by the time you get to it you’ll be tired since you’ve already had a full day. The morning, while you’re energized, is the best time to start your activity. It will boost your metabolism and help you remain active throughout the day. Plus, when we exercise, our brains release dopamine, which improves our mood. So, if you exercise earlier you’ll be in a better mood for the day.

All in all, a good morning routine helps you throughout the day. But how do we get to the stage where we can get up early and be well rested?

The Night Before

The morning may feel like it starts somewhere between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. depending on the day of the week and when you need to be up. However, preparation for the morning begins the night before. If we want to wake up feeling refreshed and well rested, we need to have, well, rested.

It all starts with good sleep hygiene, which begins with going to bed at a similar time every day. There is no point varying your sleeping pattern by extreme differences in hours. If you do that, your body clock will be out of sync and you won’t know when you are supposed to sleep. It is important to have a comfortable, dark, quiet place to sleep, and that your room is not at an extreme temperature.

To sleep better, it’s a good idea not to have a large meal before going to bed. As well, caffeine should be avoided before bed. If you struggle with sleeping, chamomile tea is a great help.

A challenge to sleeping that has become greater in modern life is screen time. You should limit your time using your phone or computer close to when you sleep.

We’ve already talked about the benefits of exercise, but guess what? It also helps you sleep! If you have tired yourself out during the day you will be able to sleep much better.

Staying active

Build a Routine

The important part of all of this is that you make it a routine. Getting up early once in a while won’t have any great benefits. But if you get up early regularly you will see improvements. Crucially, getting up at the same time and going to bed at the same time is really key to building a routine.

Routines take time to put in place. Set yourself some realistic goals for gradually building yourself a good routine. Ask yourself where you want to be in the long term and build to that with short-term goals. It is helpful to keep a written diary of your progress.

Once you have built a good routine and made a habit of getting up early, you will be on your way to a higher level of cognitive function and better mental health.

Increase Your Cognitive Function

A big part of having a faster working brain is stimulation. You can help keep your brain in shape with mental exercises such as word and number puzzles. As well as this, physical exercise has been shown to help cognitive health. Avoiding alcohol and making sure you have a diet full of minerals and nutrients is really important for your brain too. Make sure you are getting everything you need from your food, including vitamin B12 which contributes to your mental health. And remember, socialize! Deep down, we’re social creatures and need to engage with other people. Isolation can be very damaging for your mental health.

The existence of neuroplasticity means your brain is constantly developing, so you can continue to grow and learn throughout your life.

Staying Active is Key!

If you’ve taken anything from this article, it should be that consistency is key. A good routine will really help you improve your mental health. The study mentioned above indicates that the duration and frequency of activity is more important than intensity. This means that doing short, irregular bursts of activity will not give you as much benefit as staying active throughout the day. So, keep yourself moving all day!

About The Author

NeuroGym Team

NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.

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