Most of us are well aware of how beneficial exercise is for your body, but did you know that your brain receives a boost from working out as well? In fact, many experts believe that exercise is one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy, and for a number of important reasons; read on what happens to your brain when you work out.
1. As you engage in a heart-pumping workout, your brain begins to release stress-fighting hormones known as endorphins, which act to minimize any discomfort from physical exertion. Often referred to as "natural morphine," these complex chemicals produce feelings of euphoria (e.g., the "runner's high"), which can improve your mood and boost your overall sense of well-being.
2. Exercise has been shown to increase levels of Brain-Derived Neutrotrophic Factor (BDNF), a key protein that's responsible for repairing, maintaining, and regenerating adult nerve cells. For this reason, many experts believe that regular exercise can prevent the development of certain cognitive disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
3. According to a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, exercise has been shown to boost blood flow to the brain, which improves cognitive function, increases verbal memory, and speeds up reaction time.
4. Exercise actually helps create new neurons in the brain, which are cells that transmit and process information through various chemical and electrical signals. As you work out, more neurons are created, and the ones that currently exist are strengthened and made to become more agile and responsive, a characteristic known as "neuroplasticity." This is the equivalent of giving your brain a workout, which will keep it strong, sharp, and healthy.
5. Dozens of studies have shown that just 10-15 minutes of exercise every day can dramatically improve the concentration and attention span of children, including those who have been diagnosed with ADHD. Other studies have linked physical exercise with higher IQ levels in school-aged children.
6. Exercise triggers several important neurotransmitters in the brain, including:
- Serotonin - Regulates mood, sex drive, social behavior, appetite, digestion, and memory.
- Dopamine - Affects movement, cognition, learning, and attention, and is often referred to as the "pleasure hormone," because it's responsible for releasing mood-elevating chemicals that motivate us to do (or keep doing) certain activities.
- Norepinephrine - Fine-tunes your body to work as efficiently as possible during times of heightened activity or awareness (i.e., the "fight-or-flight response").
The combination of activity from these highly sophisticated chemicals helps to increase your focus, release stress, and give you a greater feeling of alertness.
7. In one recent study, researchers closely monitored the brain patterns of people who committed to exercise for one hour a day, three times a week for a period of six months. Interestingly enough, researchers began to notice an increase in the size of each participant's hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for controlling learning and memory. This boosted their performance with tasks that required concentration or recall.
When you exercise, you're giving your brain just as much of a workout as your body, if not even more so! If you want to keep your mental game on point, be sure to add physical exercise to your weekly regimen!