We all know exercising is good for the body. But did you know you might also get a brain boost when you don your sneakers and hit the gym?
The benefits of physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, have positive effects on brain function on multiple fronts, ranging from the molecular to behavioral level. According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.
Listed below are some affects of exercise on your brain:
Releases feel-good chemicals in your brain
Most of us will have heard of endorphins – the ultimate “feel good” chemicals that our body releases when we exercise. Endorphins are what we can thank for that blissful ‘post-exercise high’ that often follows a good sweat session. These chemicals interact with the receptors in our brain that reduce our perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling in the body. Endorphins help to reduce stress and anxiety, but when we exercise, there are other mood-boosting chemicals at play as well.
Exercise also increases the production of serotonin in the brain, which works as a natural antidepressant. Lastly, exercise increases the production of dopamine – the “motivation” and “reward” brain chemical.
With a knock-on production of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, it’s no surprise regular exercise is linked with enhanced mental health and emotional well being!
Research supports the idea that exercise improves focus, attention, and the ability to concentrate. But how?
When we exercise our adrenal glands and our brain ramp up production of a chemical called nor-epinephrine. Especially an exercise at a high-intensity level where our heart rate is elevated. As more nor-epinephrine flows into our bloodstream, it increases our alertness and focus. An important reason to prioritise exercise during busy working periods, to improve productivity!
A number of studies show that aerobic exercise (aka cardio) promotes brain growth, especially in the hippo-campus area, the part of our brain that is associated with memory.
And if that‘s not enough to convince you – a new study from McMaster University in Canada found that young adults who participated in 6 weeks of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) experienced significant improvements in their memory and recall.
Slow down cognitive decline
Keeping physically fit can also help to keep our brain healthy as we age. Exercise stimulates the release of growth factors, chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the survival of new brain cells. These growth factors help to protect our brain against injury and preserve our cognitive function.