Exercise can change the brain’s anatomy, physiology and function. Notably, it can improve attention function in the prefrontal cortex. This holds significance for people with mild cognitive impairment, bringing improvements to cerebral flow regulation and cardiorespiratory fitness, memory and executive function. Dr Emeka, Brand Ambassador of AI-based fitness and lifestyle coaching app Freeletics, explained how exercising at different times of the day can affect your health.
Exercise targets mainly the prefrontal cortex in the brain, critical for decision-making, and your personality.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain involved in learning and verbal memory. Sweat-inducing workouts produce new brain cells in the hippocampus, that increase its volume, as well as improve long-term memory.
These two areas are most susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases and normal cognitive decline in ageing.
Studies suggest that moderate exercise in the morning improves cognitive performance throughout the day, helping people make better decisions during a subsequent day of sitting for eight hours.
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Dr Emeka said: “The first and most important thing to understand is how exercising at different points of the day can affect your workout.
“Morning workouts seem to have the edge, especially when working out on an empty stomach. Exercising in the morning can sharpen cognitive health, reduce stress and better mental health and productivity.
“This is due to your hormones in the morning being heightened and therefore, you’re more likely to burn fat in the early hours before you’ve eaten.
“Both our growth hormones and cortisol levels are raised in the morning too, so this will speed up the metabolism, essentially helping you burn more fat.”
With growing research showing that exercise has a strong protective impact on the brain, scientists are better able to determine how different types of exercise impact cognitive health. To reap the long-term benefits of exercise on the brain, scientists recommend increasing cardiorespiratory function through exercise.
Some studies have shown that combining morning exercise with brief walks throughout the workday can deliver promising results for short-term memory.
Dr Emeka said: “Although there is little research to show what exercise benefits cognitive health the most, aerobic exercises such as walking, are the main type of exercise which have been looked at.
“Given the cardiovascular effects of weight training and high-intensity exercise, they also likely to have the same kind of benefit.”
Dr Emeka pointed out that while working out in the morning has beneficial effects on cognitive health, exercising in the afternoon and evening can also benefit the brain.
A single workout in the middle of the day can improve reaction times, making people quicker on their feet. It can also improve one’s ability to shift and focus attention for up to two hours.
It also allows you to harness the mental boost you need “to avoid the end-of-the-day slump,” explained dr Emeka.
She added: “Exercising in the middle of the day or in the evening improves your alertness. Movements at this time of the day also have benefits for your cardiovascular system and metabolism.”