• A Better Mood: Exercise-induced serotonin production may work as well as prescription antidepressant medications, according to a Cochrane review.
• Stress Relief: Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million U.S. adults, but regular exercisers are at a lower risk for anxiety than those who are sedentary.
• Better Brain Power: According to University of British Columbia researchers, people who engage in regular heart-pumping, sweat-producing exercise have a larger hippocampus (the area in your brain involved in memory and thinking) than those who don’t exercise.
• A Natural High: Want a natural high? German researchers found that the same area in the brain that is altered by the THC in marijuana also seems to be activated by exercise.
You know that exercise is good for your body, but you might not realize all the ways it helps brain health as well. You may have heard that heart-pumping, sweat-inducing physical activity floods your body with feel-good endorphins that improve your mood, but that’s just the beginning. When compared to non-exercisers regular exercisers have better memories, reaction times, enhanced comprehension, lower stress, and improved moods. Indirectly and without any conscious thought, these positive benefits can boost your motivation to help you keep exercising regularly. Studies show that just one bout of exercise, even just 10 minutes, causes changes in your neurochemistry that reduces sadness, improves energy, and boosts happiness more than being sedentary. Exercise also helps brain health by enhancing heart health, blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity, weight management, and better digestion.
Have you ever noticed that “good tired” feeling that comes after an unusually active day? Maybe it was an over-zealous workout session, perhaps you just got caught up last Sunday on yard work. These activities might leave your muscles feeling fatigued, but they can also bring feelings of relaxation, serenity, energy, and happiness. It’s not your imagination. Exercise can be as powerful as medicine when it comes to improving your mind, mood, and motivation. Let’s take a look at just some of the benefits of a brain on exercise:
A Better Mood: Physical activity stimulates the release of feel-good chemicals in your brain. When you exercise, endorphins are signaled. These are your body’s natural pain killers, and they also can shut down negative and self-destructive thinking. Also, mood-boosting serotonin is triggered and increased in your brain when you exercise. Exercise-induced serotonin production may work as well as prescription antidepressant medications, according to a Cochrane review, researchers analyzed 23 exercise and depression studies and concluded that exercise worked as well as many medications and worked slightly better than therapy alone.
Stress Relief: Regular participation in physical activity can reduce anxiety and stress and enhance relaxation. Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million U.S. adults, but regular exercisers are at a lower risk for anxiety than those who are sedentary. In another study of nearly 20,000 people, those who exercised moderately for 30 to 45 minutes most days of the week reported lower rates of anxiety and neurosis compared to non-exercisers. No time for a long workout? No worries, research shows that a 10-minute walk can reduce stress and boost mood as well as longer workouts.
Better Brain Power: Got brain fog? Get moving. According to University of British Columbia researchers, people who engage in regular heart-pumping, sweat-producing exercise have a larger hippocampus (the area in your brain involved in memory and thinking) than those who don’t exercise. In other research, neurologists have found a link between moderate exercise and an increase in the volume of selected brain regions that are linked to better brain function.
A Natural High: You’ve heard of the “runner’s high,” but many people regularly report that they feel a natural sense of euphoria after any sort of exercise. Research points to the release of endorphins that trigger a response that is similar to opioid drugs. Plus, German researchers found that the same area in the brain that is altered by the THC in marijuana also seems to be activated by exercise.
Other Exercise-Induced Brain Benefits
Insulin sensitivity: Exercise improves insulin sensitivity and blood flow in dopamine-related brain regions and blood flow to all areas of the brain, according to a recent study published in the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior. Brain scans done before and after an eight-week exercise program (walking and biking) found that exercise increased blood flow and insulin regulation in areas of the brain important for motor control and reward processes (dopamine-related regions). The results, according to researchers, may help decrease the risk of diabetes and diabetes-related conditions.
Weight control: Exercise is a crucial part of losing and maintaining a healthy weight, but how does managing weight help your brain? Besides improved blood flow, oxygen, and other nutrients for your brain, a new study finds that the link between exercise and weight management may reduce aging effects in your brain. The researchers, who did MRIs on more than 1,000 adults, found that those who had the highest weights showed the most prominent decline in the brain cortex, which has been linked to aging and dementia.
Heart health: Exercise reduces arterial damage that can cause heart disease and attacks, and it’s this heart health that also reduces artery blockages that damage blood flow and oxygen delivery to your brain. Studies also show that people who have higher markers for heart disease have an increased risk for Alzheimer’s dementia.
Gut health: There’s big news these days about all the ways that the nearly 100 trillion microbes in our guts affect our brain health. Many studies suggest that imbalances in the gut are linked to anxiety disorders and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise, according to other research, can help enhance and enrich the number of beneficial microbes in your digestive tract, which can reduce related brain disorders and aging.
Moving provides a physical release that lowers anxiety and stress while energizing your body and empowering your mind. Exercise helps you to think more clearly, to be more focused, and to have a better memory. Don’t think about it, throw on some supportive walking shoes and get out there and start moving. Start with as little as a walk around the block and work up, block by block, each day after that. Aim to move 30 to 45 minutes for five or more days per week. You’ll feel better, and your body and brain will thank you.