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Exercise is More than an Endorphin High

Everyone knows that exercise is an essential part of maintaining one’s health. Not only does exercise maintain muscle mass, boost the metabolism, and help maintain a healthy weight, but vigorous exercise also releases the hormone endorphin, which is known as the “feel-good” hormone. Endorphins provide a happy high that can become addictive.

Recently researchers have learned that exercise produces another hormone – Irisin. Irisin is now being touted as the “exercise hormone.” It helps maintain a healthy body weight by reprogramming the body’s fat cells to burn energy, it helps to slow the process of aging, and it stimulates growth of neurons and improves cognitive ability.

Researchers at Dana-Farber and Harvard Medical School discovered that Irisin increases BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and activated genes involved in cognition. Increased BDNF has been known to stimulate neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons) whereas chronic stress, anxiety, and depression have been linked to loss of neurons. During neuron degeneration, cortisol multiplies. Elevated cortisol cause the hippocampus, or the brain’s memory center, to shrink. In addition to neurogenesis, Irisin also lowers cortisol, which strengthens neurons.

BDNF does have a cap, however. It is possible to overdo it. Studies showed that mice who exercised too much, past the recommended limit, actually had more difficulty navigating the mazes and remembering the paths they had already taken.

By making regular aerobic exercise a part of one’s daily routine, people can insure the consistent growth and maintenance of healthy neurons which will potentially lower the risks of cognitive decline and the development of dementia. This, of course, isn’t a proven science but researchers are studying how to use elevated Irisin in treating and preventing Alzheimer’s Disease.

Luckily Charleston has several places to exercise – both indoors and in the beautiful outdoors all over the Charleston tri-county area from Mount Pleasant, Daniel Island, Sullivan’s Island, and the Isle Palms to James Island and John’s Island. Senior Helpers Charleston is always here to help make exercise a part of your daily routine.