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Does Physical Fitness Improve Your Cognitive Health and Wellness?

Physical fitness may improve your cognitive health and wellness!

The core benefits of physical activity likely exceed beyond fitness and performance. Your physical fitness may influence cognition and overall mental health. Let’s break this down.

There are some compelling connections between physical fitness and cognitive health.

When we think of performance concerning physical activity and fitness, we typically consider the physical outcomes.

However, collectively, human performance is just as much mental as it is physical. Human performance is physical, mental, and emotional, all of which center around health and well-being.

The interplay between physical fitness and other health outcomes is compelling. It is especially true when considering overall cognitive health and wellness.

Physical fitness has been associated with primary mental and cognitive health variables, such as mental clarity and sharpness, motivations, and overall emotional well-being.

Furthermore, people who strike a healthy balance between physical activity and other wellness activities may perform better at work and could be more likely to achieve their life goals.

What factors matter for your cognitive wellness?

Engaging in wellness practices may protect your cognitive health.

Cognitive health, as a broad term, encompasses clinical factors, such as measures of cognitive function and variables related to emotional wellness. Yet, the variables between each of these overarching areas are intertwined.

According to brain wellness experts, cognitive health, at its core, is the ability to think clearly and successfully implement executive functions. Cognitive health also includes motor function (a clear intersection of the brain and physical health), emotional wellness, and sensory factors. Furthermore, it may also encompass the body’s overall resilience.

When you hear the term neurology, these intersections between the brain and the rest of the bodily systems and functions will be the essence of what is categorized.

Furthermore, neuroscience may also encompass psychological factors. Neuropsychology examines the relationships between behavior and the brain. From a clinical standpoint, factors that influence neurological health will be interrelated.

Research has scraped the tip of the iceberg regarding associations between the dimensions of wellness and cognitive health. Yet, findings on specific wellness practices have been compelling.

One study on over 5,000 adults age 60 or higher suggested that emotional wellness may have the strongest association to cognitive health, especially as we age. This research would imply that engaging in activities that nurture emotional health and wellness could also support factors related to neurology, such as cognitive functions.

Other influential variables include nutrition-related and environmental factors. Also, lifestyle factors like sleep quality and stress management play a role. These factors can be critical from the lens of neurological health as well as over health and wellness.

Many of the chronic health conditions that lifestyle factors mediate can wreak havoc on our internal bodily systems. These health conditions can throw off the internal mechanisms involved with good cognitive health.

It is also well accepted that adverse health conditions, such as those that impact metabolic or cardiovascular wellness, are influenced by lifestyle factors like daily physical activity.

The skinny; your state of wellness could influence overall cognitive health!

Primary takeaways for maintaining cognitive health could include:

  • Nurture emotional health and wellness, which could include stress management, social connections, and mindfulness.
  • Management of health conditions (or engaging in the prevention of these debilitating chronic health conditions).
  • Leverage physical activity as part of your “brain training.”

How can you leverage physical fitness for better cognitive health?

Physical activity may help you optimize cognitive health and wellness.

Studies have suggested that engaging in physical activity may influence cognitive performance. In fact, physical activity is considered a pillar within the dimensions of wellness.

One study addressed the effects of wellness activities on short-term cognitive decline. Researchers observed favorable impacts on cognitive health from engaging in physical activity and intellectual games, such as crossword puzzles.

Other studies have correlated favorable cardiorespiratory fitness with factors associated with cognition and healthy aging. *This type of fitness (often called endurance fitness or training) may also reduce the negative effects of depression or other mental health ailments.

While other research has also suggested that physical strength may be correlated with cognitive performance.

From the lens of mental well-being, physical activities that involve learning a routine, such as dance, could be influential for metabolic and cardiovascular health. This type of physical fitness may also impact neuroplasticity in the brain! Neuroplasticity plays a role in learning new skills throughout a person’s life course.

Research has also suggested that reaction times and the ability to pay attention may be better in people who engage in consistent aerobic activity.

Tips to maximize physical fitness for cognitive health and wellness:

Pulling this synopsis of physical fitness and cognitive health together and putting a game plan into action should fit well with your schedule.

  1. Incorporate a balance of emotional wellness centric-fitness. This may include daily walks, time/recreation in nature, and breathwork or meditative practice. For a bonus, do this with friends or family that you enjoy.
  2. Appropriate cardiovascular training. This may look different based on who you are. However, consistency will be the key. Once a consistent weekly plan is in fluid motion, finding ways to build respiratory endurance through enhanced fitness can come next.
  3. Include strength training (and not forgetting to!). This can leverage a combination of activities using bodyweight, resistance bands or props, and weight-bearing equipment.

A few other tips for nurturing both physical and mental wellness are in this blog article. We will cover brain health and wellness in more extensive detail in upcoming programs and courses on lifestyle wellness and brain health!

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash


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