It’s funny how common the word “exercise” has become. Yes, it was important and people religiously did it in yesteryears as well, but commercialization and research have given it a weightage that may even feel pressurizing at times. You need to dodge the noise.
Exercise is good for you. It helps tone your muscles, strengthens your heart and lungs, reduces inflammation, lifts your spirits, and makes you feel better about yourself – the list is a long one. But how often do we associate exercise with our brain? Not very.
Reasons Why Your Brain Needs You To Exercise
If not for the physical or emotional benefits, consider living a more active life for the sake of your brain. It’s interesting how something so physical can have an impact on how you see and process the world. This is because exercise benefits your brain as well. Here’s how.
1. Exercise Improves Memory And Cognition
How smart you are and how well you remember things depends on how physically active you are. A study at the University of British Columbia showed that aerobic exercise done regularly can increase the size and density of the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory and learning.1 It’s important to note that strength training did not have the same effect on the brain.
Similar studies involving other parts of the brain that influence memory and cognition, the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex, have shown similar results. In the brains of people who exercise regularly, these regions are larger. This gives them an upper hand in problem-solving, a skill that requires both logical thinking and memory.
As little as six months of regular moderate intensity exercise has been proved to make a difference in the size of these brain regions.
2. Exercise Preserves Your Brain Cells
Exercise encourages neurogenesis, the process by which new nerve cells are formed. Brain cells are nothing but nerve cells. This means that by ditching a sedentary lifestyle, you can ensure your brain has enough supply of new nerves to replace the dead, worn out ones.
This is important for your brain to retain its neuroplasticity, a fancy word for the brain’s ability to form and recognize nerve connections. The more neuroplastic your brain, the sharper you will be.
Exercise not only supports the generation of your brain cells but prevents their regeneration as well. People suffering from dementia, a disorder involving nerve degeneration, generally have a smaller hippocampus. So indirectly, having a larger hippocampus may help protect you from neurodegenerative disorders.
3. Exercise Makes You More Determined
As we grow older, our levels of dopamine drop. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that supports mood and motivation.
When you move with a purpose, like you do when you exercise, more dopamine is released. Not only will your fitness goals find new meaning, but this will translate to a more ambitious approach to life. You will feel more determined and in a positive way.
4. Exercise Makes It Difficult To Get Stressed
This is a good one, and a necessary one we dare say. You can be one of two things: stressed or not stressed. There is no in between. The good news is that exercise can make it difficult for your body to switch to stress mode, the fight or flight response. It does this by serving as “positive” stress for the body. A body that is already “stressed” can be stressed no further.
Exercise also reduces oxidative stress, stress at the molecular level that can damage your brain cells. In this way, it helps preserve your brain neurons further.
With the feel-good endorphins taking over, cortisol, the stress hormone, is also reduced. Cortisol interferes with nerve signals, making it difficult for your brain to function optimally. Less cortisol means better brain connectivity.
The goal is to build up a light sweat and get your heart pumping. This means even regular brisk walking and stair climbing count as enough exercise to change the structure of your brain for the better.
If you want to increase the fun quotient, you have free rein. Go dancing, play some tennis or squash, or stick to good ol’ aerobics. In fact, the more creative and interesting you keep your exercise, the more engaged your brain will be, and the more productive you will become.
|↑1||Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. Harvard Medical School.|