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How Exercise, Brain Health, and Depression are Inextricably Linked?

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

Let's discuss the three critical factors that play a role in our health as we age: brain function, exercise, and depression. Today's research study focuses on how these three different factors are interconnected and how one can lead to the next. The study used longitudinal data to examine 51,191 adults aged 50 and older from over 25 countries.

The average age was 64.8 years, with 54.7% of the population being female. The data for this study comes from the Survey of Health, Aging, and Retirement in Europe, which started in 2004. The researchers returned to the same people every two years and asked specific questions about cognition, such as word recall and delayed memory. They also talked to the participants about their physical activity levels and asked them about depression.

The study found that higher cognitive function was the best predictor for people doing more physical activity as they age. Also, the more physical activity participants did, the less likely they were to experience depressive symptoms.

According to a new study, brain health may have a greater impact on exercise than previously thought. The research suggests that exercise can benefit brain health, but the reverse may also be true. Brain health may play a role in how well a person can exercise. This finding raises questions about the relationship between brain health and exercise and how they affect each other.

According to the TEMPA theory (Theory of Effort Minimization in Physical Activity), humans have a tendency to do the least amount of work possible. TEMPA theory suggests that as our brain capacity decreases, we engage in less and less physical activity. Essentially, we are programmed to minimize our physical activity as we age. However, if we can preserve our brain function, we can overcome this and remain active. Exercise and Brain Health

According to the study, older adults who are more active experience less depression. Therefore, it is important for people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s to focus on taking care of themselves. This means focusing on SELF: sleep, exercise, love, and food.

Getting enough sleep is important for your overall health, but it is especially important for your brain health. Getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night should be a priority. Too many people watch TV right before going to bed, which makes it difficult to fall asleep.

You can do a few things to ensure you get deep, restful sleep. First, try to establish a regular sleep schedule and stick to it as much as possible. Having a set bedtime and bedtime routine will help signal to your body that it's time to wind down and relax. Second, avoid taking supplements like melatonin. While they may help you fall asleep, they don't do much to promote deep, restful sleep. Excess melatonin can have the opposite effect, making you irritable and causing vivid dreams. Instead, take a magnesium supplement before bedtime. Ashwagandha can also help you relax before sleep. A warm shower and keeping your bedroom cool can help you fall asleep. Weighted blankets have also been shown to be beneficial.

Exercise is one of the most effective means of boosting brain function. So get up and move to help maintain and improve your cognitive skills! The effects of physical activity on cognitive function can be explained by the effects of physical activity on angiogenesis (new blood vessels), neurogenesis (new neurons), cortical thickness, and growth factor production.

To experience more love in your life, focus on expressing gratitude, meditating, and doing yoga to remove stress.

As for food, prioritize adding plants to your diet. If you're not ready to commit to a whole-food, plant-based diet, that's okay. Start where you're at and make small changes. See what you can do and how you feel. The more you can do, the better you're going to feel. Remember, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains are all excellent for you.


Csajbók, Z., Sieber, S., Cullati, S. et al. Physical activity partly mediates the association between cognitive function and depressive symptoms. Transl Psychiatry 12, 414 (2022).

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