Five Brain Benefits of Exercise

March 7, 2016

Exercise is important for your body. It can help strengthen your muscles, improve the condition of your heart and lungs, strengthen your bones, and is vital for the prevention of many diseases. When combined with a healthy diet, it can also help you to lose or maintain your weight too.

Exercise is good for everybody’s body but it’s not just your muscles that benefit from your workouts; your brain does too. Here are FIVE brain benefits of exercise…

1) Exercise can help alleviate depression

Exercise has been shown to be an effective anti-depressant. It can help chase away a minor bout of the blues and even treat serious depression. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and promotes the production and release of endorphins which are nature’s natural painkillers and mood enhancers.

Endorphins are chemically similar to that well-known painkiller morphine and are responsible for the state of euphoria that many exercisers experience, what is commonly referred to as “runner’s high”. They are also what makes exercise addictive.

Exercise has no major negative side effects, unlike many anti-depressant drugs, and while exercise is an effective way to alleviate depression, as depression is a serious mental health issue, you should only exercise for depression with the consent of your attending medical practitioner.

2) Exercise improves your memory

Exercise can boost your short and long-term memory by as much as 15 percent. Age related memory loss is all too common and it’s not just diseases like Alzheimer’s that are the problem. Simply becoming more forgetful is often a fact of getting older.

By increasing oxygen supply to the brain, exercise improves the health of your brain cells and, especially, those responsible for memory. If you are tired of forgetting where you left your keys or always struggling to put a name to a familiar face, exercise can help!

3) Exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety

Stress really takes its toll on your body and brain. Look at the face of someone who is exposed to lots of stress and you’ll see that this is true. Stress has a similar destructive effect on your brain and can cause numerous mind-related issues. You may have experienced the effects of stress on your brain first-hand; during an exam for which you were well prepared, your mind just went blank or, when faced with a stressful decision, you were unable to make any choice, let alone the right choice.

Exercise helps prevent and relieve anxiety which prevents stress from clouding your mind allowing it to function properly. It reduces the rise of cortisol, the main stress hormone, and you may even find that after a workout, something that was stressing you out simply evaporates to leave you feeling relaxed and at ease. Kick mental stress into touch by making exercise part of your stress-busting routine.

4) Exercise improves cognitive function

Cognitive function is your ability to focus on complex tasks, to organize, to think abstractly, and to plan for future events. It also encompasses working memory, such as the ability to keep a phone number in your head while you dial. Research suggests that people who exercise for 30-45 minutes three to five times a week do better in cognitive tests than control groups who didn’t work out and substantial benefits are often seen in as few as four weeks of regular exercise. And the type of exercise isn’t especially important; walking, running, swimming, cycling, and lifting weights have all been shown to be of benefit.

5) Exercise protects you against mental decline

Age-related mental decline is all too common. Many older people struggle with simple the tasks that they once took for granted and find learning new skills very hard. This often makes living independently impossible. And while life can be maintained through medical intervention, quality of life can often be very low.

Exercise helps slow age-related mental and cognitive decline which can improve the ability to live independently and increase quality of life.

Increased blood flow to the brain, reduced blood glucose levels (high blood glucose being a major factor for mental decline), and an increase in the production of the chemical Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF, stimulates the growth and proliferation of new brain cells.

Exercise also improves brain plasticity which simply means that the brain is better able to adapt to new experiences and learn new skills.

Exercise, physical fitness, and mental health are inextricably linked. Your (hopefully!) regular workouts do so much more than allow you to control your weight. Exercise becomes increasingly important with advancing age and not just because it preserves your physical capabilities. If you want your brain to remain young and function properly, exercise is a must.

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