Why Your Brain Needs Exercise: Exercise is vital to much more than just your cardiovascular system, especially as you age - Scientific American

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It is by now well established that exercise has positive effects on the brain, especially as we age.

Less clear has been why physical activity affects the brain in the first place.

. . . studies have established that exercise also has positive effects on the brains of humans, especially as we age, and that it may even help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. But the research raised a key question: Why does exercise affect the brain at all?

Physical activity improves the function of many organ systems in the body, but the effects are usually linked to better athletic performance. For example, when you walk or run, your muscles demand more oxygen, and over time your cardiovascular system responds by increasing the size of the heart and building new blood vessels. The cardiovascular changes are primarily a response to the physical challenges of exercise, which can enhance endurance. But what challenge elicits a response from the brain?
Answering this question requires that we rethink our views of exercise. People often consider walking and running to be activities that the body is able to perform on autopilot. But research carried out over the past decade by us and others would indicate that this folk wisdom is wrong. Instead exercise seems to be as much a cognitive activity as a physical one. In fact, this link between physical activity and brain health may trace back millions of years to the origin of hallmark traits of humankind.