Exercise is one of the most important tools we have to live a healthy lifestyle but did you know that it also helps the brain? But how does exercise help the brain? Like other parts of our bodies, the brain needs to be worked out in order to promote healthy growth. Many people share the same goal at the gym, workout to promote the growth of muscle cells. But there are fitness programs that will also increase the number of connections made in the brain. Some exercise, mainly aerobic, can provide benefits for the brain on a molecular and even a behavioral level. The only thing left is to understand exactly how exercise helps the brain.
These ideas have been proven by a study conducted by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia. The study showed that exercising, even if only for 20 minutes, facilitates the processing and memory functions of the brain. According to experts, what’s good for your heart, is good for your brain.
There are many benefits to exercise but the question remains, how does exercise help the brain? There are many ways exercise helps, it improves the connections between your nerves, supports the protection of your neurons, enhances your ability to learn, adapt and change. In fact, exercise can help reduce any negative effects that may occur from brain some brain injuries. Sometimes, our behavior is affected by outside stressors like heat or inflammation. Exercise can help reduce those behaviors and may even counteract against depression and other aging effects.
We all know that exercise increases our heart rates. That rise in heart rate will also raise the level of oxygen that is pumped into the body. More oxygen in the body means many different benefits but for the brain that benefits is oxygenated blood. That oxygenated blood being pumped into the brain will bring nutrients to the tissue. Once those nutrients have been absorbed by the brain will keep it healthy and may even repair any damage. Exercising will also increase blood flow which keeps arteries, veins, and capillaries clear of debris and plaque. This is how exercise helps the entire body.
Many people know that exercise releases endorphin. These endorphins directly affect your mood. Endorphins can make you happy and a happy brain promotes a healthy environment for your brain cells. That environment will even allow your brain to grow more cells.These endorphins also provide a greater resistance to stress, no matter where it may come from. When you start working out regularly, you’ll find that you’re in a better mood more often and you won’t stress the small stuff as often, if at all.
Emotional stress is bad enough without thinking about the aging process. However, there are hormones released in the brain that actually age it over time. Add emotional stress and you’ll find those bad hormones are released more often causing an imbalance in your brain. That imbalance, in turn, creates oxidative stress in your brain and even other tissue in your body. Oxidative stress can break down tissue in your body and cause them to die off sooner. Exercise is the only weapon we have to stop all of this from happening.
While you’re exercising your brain starts releases Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor or BDNF. BDNF is a protein that supports the survival of existing neurons while also promoting the growth and differentiation of new ones. Exercise will also lower the levels of cortisol levels which will help you clear your mind easier. Research is showing us how exercise helps the brain by getting the heart rate up and keep it there for prolonged periods of time. That means that aerobic and circuit training are perfect examples of physical ways to work out the brain.
The executive function of your brain is what helps you make decisions. Being able to focus, organize, think abstractly, plan ahead, these are all abilities that make up your executive function. Memory is also something that can be affected by your executive function. If your executive function isn’t where it should be, you may notice it mostly when trying to recall something.
One example of a failing executive function is trying to remember a phone number or event and not being able to do so. Some research is showing that exercise can help with the executive function. In fact, exercise may be one of the tools we have to protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. We already know that those who exercise regularly perform better during cognitive tests than those who don’t exercise.
The question is what does it take to reap the benefits of a healthy brain?
All we need is 30-40 minutes of moderate intensity workouts that keep your heart rate up the entire time for 6 months or more. Many benefits will be seen after only four weeks of exercise and age doesn’t seem to be a factor either. So no matter how old you are or how often you’ve worked out in the past, it’s never too late to get started.