When you think about careers that are intellectually stimulating, or good for the brain, STEM fields likely come to mind first: scientists, doctors, engineers. But what about a personal fitness trainer? Probably not a career that would top your list, but The New York Times has published a series of articles in recent months that look at research showing how exercise promotes brain health.
From promoting the release of hormones that ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety to creating new brain cells in already developed adult brains, exercise has all kinds of positive impacts on the brain. Let’s take a closer look at a few of those studies.
Sustained Aerobic Exercise Leads to New Brain Cells
While high intensity interval training and weight training have many health benefits, possibly including benefits related to brain health, a recent study by researchers in Finland found that they didn’t have much impact on the creation of new brain cells in already developed adult brains. However, lab rats who voluntarily jogged long distances each day for seven weeks had enormous brain cell growth.
The new brain cells that developed were neurons around the hippocampus, “a key area of the brain for learning and memory,” according to The New York Times. Of course, lab rats are not people, but researchers noted that the results could also have implications for human brain health as well.
For a personal fitness trainer working with clients who may have concerns about aging impacting their memory, having them add aerobics to their workouts could improve cognitive functions.
Yoga Might Improve Memory for Older Adults
As the Baby Boomer generation retires and turns focus to their health and mental wellness, exercise will play a key role. An article was published in April in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that studied the effects of yoga on middle-aged adults who were evaluated and found to have mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia.
The study participants were randomly divided into two groups: One group participated in well-established memory enhancement training (MET) while the other participated in yoga, practicing breathing exercises and meditation. Both groups spent the same amount of time each week on their activities and the study lasted a total of 12 weeks.
At the conclusion of the study, researchers found that both groups experienced significant improvement on memory and language tests. Researchers were surprised that the yoga group was not only able to equal the MET group in thinking improvement, but surpassed the MET group in other ways. The yoga group also showed improvement in their moods: “they scored lower on an assessment of potential depression than those in the brain-training group,” according to The New York Times.
The demand for personal trainers is growing, due in part to the active baby-boom generation wanting to prevent injuries and illness related to aging. Since yoga is a low-impact activity, it could be a great solution with significant brain benefits for older clients.
As a Personal Fitness Trainer, You’re Probably Producing Lots of “Miracle-Gro” for the Brain
Researchers have known for a while that exercise leads the body to produce more of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (B.D.N.F.), which is sometimes referred to as “Miracle-Gro” for the brain. B.D.N.F. helps brain cells grow and remain strong, and it strengthens connections in the brain – all of which help the brain work better.
Scientists wanted to better understand the connection between exercise and the production of this protein, so they studied the brain tissue of two groups of mice: one group that ran vigorously for several miles every day and another group that remained sedentary.
As expected, the exercising group of mice produced more BDNF than the sedentary mice. Scientists then looked at the gene that produces the protein and found that the gene in the sedentary mice was blocked from producing BDNF by inhibitors. These inhibitors didn’t work as well in the exercising mice because of a substance found that made the inhibitors ineffective. The substance found in the running mice was ketones, which is produced during exercise.
Again, mice are not people, but the study still has implications for human brains. As a personal fitness trainer, you are likely exercising for at least an hour most days of the week, which is what scientists say it requires before the body will start producing ketones. You may not have realized it before, but your body and your brain are in great shape.
As a personal fitness trainer, it’s important to find ways to motivate every client; that can be a challenge for people who don’t see a need for much physical activity in their everyday lives. Making sure those people understand the importance of exercise for brain health and development could be exactly the thing you need to get them up and moving.
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