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Evidence Based Benefits Of Physical Activity For Neurological Health

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Evidence Based Benefits Of Physical Activity For Neurological Health

A sedentary lifestyle can have a profoundly negative impact on overall health. Physical inactivity is associated with the development of 40 chronic diseases and increases your risk for neurological issues such as cognitive decline. Physically inactive adults are almost twice as likely to experience cognitive decline as physically active adults.

Getting your body moving, on the other hand, is a great way to support neurological health. In this article, we'll cover what neurological health is, how physical activity can boost brain health, how many minutes of exercise adults and children need each day, how to measure the intensity of your physical activity, what your target heart rate is, and ways to increase physical activity.


What is Neurological Health?

Neurological health refers to the health of your nervous system. This includes your central nervous system and peripheral nervous system.

The CNS, or central nervous system, includes your brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system includes your autonomic and somatic nervous systems; the autonomic nervous system controls automatic or unconscious functions like breathing, heart rate, and digestion, and the somatic nervous system controls voluntary movements of the body, like running, reaching for an object, or playing an instrument.

Neurological health encompasses all the functions that the neurological system controls: thinking, learning, movement, coordination, emotions, breathing, digestion, sleeping, awareness, feeling pain or pleasure, tasting food, and so much more.

The nervous system exerts control over other systems in the body, including the hormone and immune systems. Neurons send signals to glands to influence the release of hormones and also communicate with immune cells to elicit immune responses. So, neurological health influences many other aspects of your overall health and well-being.

How Does Physical Activity Boost Brain Health?

Physical activity is not just essential for maintaining a healthy body; it also profoundly impacts your brain health. Regular exercise, whether aerobic activities like running or cycling or strength training exercises like lifting weights, can significantly boost brain function and overall neurological health. Physical activity improves memory, reduces anxiety and depression, decreases the risk of cognitive decline, and reduces the risk of neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

During exercise, your heart rate increases, leading to better blood flow to the brain, delivering a fresh supply of oxygen and vital nutrients. Exercise also reduces inflammation, decreases stress, and promotes neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to change structure and function, forming new neural connections in response to a stimulus, such as learning. For this reason, exercise can support brain recovery after an injury.

Physical activity stimulates the release of neurotransmitters, such as noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin, which contribute to improved mood, reduced stress, and enhanced mental well-being.

Exercise also increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is an important protein that supports the growth and survival of the brain's cells, improving memory and cognitive function.

Incorporating physical activity into your routine each day is a powerful tool to boost brain health, maintain optimal cognitive function, and promote overall neurological health.

How Many Minutes a Day of Exercise Do Adults Need?

Recommendations for adults to maintain optimal health are to get 150 minutes of aerobic activity at moderate intensity or vigorous physical activity for 75 minutes each week, plus 2 or more days per week of strength training activity.

Aerobic exercise could be broken down into 30 minutes of moderate-intensity or 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity 5 days per week. In addition, resistance training to build muscle strength should be included at least 2 days per week.

How Many Minutes a Day of Exercise Do Children Need?

Physical activity needs for children depend on their age. The recommendation for kids 3 to 5 years old is to be active throughout the day.

Children 6 to 17 should engage in 60 minutes of moderate to more intense daily physical activity. Vigorous exercise should be included at least 3 days per week, muscle-strengthening activities at least 3 days per week, and bone-strengthening activities (like jumping or running) at least 3 days per week.

How to Measure Physical Activity Intensity

The "talk test" is an easy way to measure physical activity intensity. During moderate-intensity activity, you can still talk, but you should not be able to sing during the activity. During vigorous-intensity exercise, you should not be able to say more than a few words before you need to take a breath.

Examples of moderate-intensity activities include brisk walking, hiking, gardening, and cycling slower than 10 miles per hour on flat terrain.

Examples of vigorous-intensity activities include jogging, running, cycling 10 miles per hour or faster or on hilly terrain, jumping rope, or swimming laps.

Another way to measure physical activity intensity is by measuring your heart rate and keeping it within a target zone during the activity.

What is Target Heart Rate?

Target Heart Rate is a specific zone where you keep your heart rate during physical activity.

The target heart rate for moderate-intensity activity is between 64% to 76% of your maximum heart rate. The target heart rate of vigorous-intensity activity is between 77% to 93% of your maximum heart rate. In order to calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from the number 220.

For example, a 30-year-old person would have a maximum heart rate of 190 (220 minus 30), a target heart rate for moderate-intensity activity between 121 (64% of 190) and 144 (76% of 190), and a target heart rate for vigorous exercise between 146 (77% of 190) and 176 (93% of 190).

Ways to Increase Physical Activity

Physical activity is a foundational aspect of optimal health, with beneficial effects on everything from the gut microbiome to neurological health. Increasing physical activity doesn't have to be complicated or daunting. Here are simple yet effective ways to increase physical activity, support neurological health, and promote overall well-being.


Increasing physical activity can be as simple as getting outside and walking or hiking. One study showed that walking just 1 mile per day lowered the risk of cognitive impairment by 50% in study participants. Being in nature adds to the benefits of exercise. Nature walks are shown to improve psychological health, improving symptoms of anxiety and depression.


Yoga is another excellent way to get your body moving. Although it originated as a spiritual practice in India, modern yoga has evolved into a practice used to promote physical and mental well-being. Modern yoga is a combination of physical asanas (postures), breathing exercises (pranayama), and meditation.

Yoga is an excellent physical activity to improve flexibility, strength, and balance, and depending on the type of yoga you practice, it can also increase your heart rate to work on your cardiovascular fitness.

Lower-intensity types of yoga include Hatha and Iyengar, which are slower and more gentle, whereas higher-intensity types of yoga include Bikram and Power yoga. Vinyasa yoga is a commonly practiced type of yoga in which a series of poses are performed that flow smoothly from one to the next and are synchronized with the breath; depending on your fitness level, the length of the class, and the poses performed, this can be a moderate to a high-intensity type of yoga.

Tai chi

Tai chi is a slow-paced therapeutic mind-body physical activity that involves gentle movement, deep breathing, and meditation. Studies show that this form of physical activity can improve balance and prevent falls in older adults and people with Parkinson's.

Tai chi provides other neurological benefits. It is shown to reduce pain, improve cognitive function, improve motor function, and support emotional control.

Tai chi is gentle and strongly focuses on relaxation and mental focus. It is an excellent form of exercise for anyone with high stress, recovering from injuries, or older adults looking for a gentle way to increase physical activity.

Strength Training

Strength training is a kind of physical activity that's especially important to include as we age. Resistance training can be performed using weights, bands, or body weight to work your muscles. Resistance training increases muscle mass, prevents bone loss, and strengthens bone tissue, which is critical for older adults.

It turns out strength training doesn't just prevent the atrophy of muscle and bone; it also prevents structural atrophy of the brain. Evidence in older adults points to a connection between muscle strength and cognitive function. Including strength training in your exercise routine is an excellent way to build both physical and mental strength.

Functional Medicine Labs That Are Beneficial for Neurological Health Monitoring

In addition to a comprehensive history, physical examination, and neurological examination, specific functional medicine laboratory tests can help diagnose and monitor neurological health.

Neurotransmitter Test

Measuring neurotransmitters can assist in diagnosing neurological issues, aid in monitoring treatment effectiveness, and provide a way to assess the health of the nervous system. The Doctor's Data NeuroBasic Profile is a urine test that measures neurotransmitters.

Comprehensive Stool Test

A comprehensive stool test provides an assessment of gastrointestinal function and the overall health of this system. It evaluates digestion, absorption, inflammation, immunity, and microbiome health markers. A healthy gastrointestinal system and gut microbiome are essential for neurological health, as many neurotransmitters and neurological chemicals (such as BDNF) are produced in the gut.

Micronutrient Test

Various micronutrients are required for healthy neurological function and neurotransmitter production. Measuring the body's nutrient status with a Micronutrients Test provides individualized information about how to optimize overall health.



Exercise is a foundational healthy lifestyle practice with benefits that extend far beyond just physical fitness. Physical activity improves memory and cognition, promotes the growth and survival of brain cells, improves mood, increases neuroplasticity, and supports overall neurological health.

Increasing physical activity can be as simple as going for a brisk walk for 30 minutes 5 days per week. Yoga and tai chi are physical activities that can improve strength, balance, and flexibility, and both incorporate elements of relaxation with deep breathing and meditation. Strength training is a method of exercise that can improve strength and function in muscles, bones, and the brain.

Regardless of the method of physical activity, moving your body and getting your blood pumping will be supportive of your mental and physical health and well-being.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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