We all know that exercising has a lot of positive effects on our body. It makes our muscles strong, improves our cardiovascular system and keeps our joints healthy. However exercising also has a lot of positive effects on our minds. In this article we will discuss the positive effects of exercising on the brain.
Short Term Benefits
If you regularly go for walks or run, you might have noticed that your thinking gets far clearer during and after your exercise. A lot of creative individuals have had their greatest insights come to them while performing an aerobic exercise. A lot of people find comfort in walking while being anxious about something. Ever wondered what exactly is going on inside our brains while we exercise?
The explanation that science has provided goes as this: When we perform a difficult exercise, our muscles are working very hard. To perform all this hard work, our muscles spend a lot of energy. This energy is obtained by burning calories, which needs oxygen. So our breathing rate increases. Higher breathing rate results in more oxygen going to our brain. This increased oxygen in our brain is a signal that our body is in distress. In order to cope with this distress or brain releases endorphins. Endorphins are the chemicals, which lead to reduction in our pain sensation thus decreasing the discomfort resulting from the exercise. The other effect of endorphins is to relax our minds. This clearly explains why exercising helps us cope with depression and anxiety. Moreover, as we experience a sense of calm, our executive thinking brain becomes more active. Our thinking clears up and our concentration improves. We can think through our problems better and become more creative.
If you are struggling with anxiety and depression, one of the best things you can do to yourself is to perform an exercise, which increases your heart rate.
Mounting scientific evidence is now also pointing at the benefits of working out on our memory retention. Scientists showed a group of study participants a number of pictures and asked them to remember the location of those pictures. They then broke them down into two groups one, which exercised and the other that did not. Two days later all the participants returned and their brains were studied with an MRI machine. The group that exercised could remember the locations significantly better than the group that did not exercise. So next time if you have to remember something for your exam, make sure that you exercise.
Long Term Benefits
We have learned so far that exercising can temporarily improve your thinking and memory. However the fact that is far more important is that if you exercise repeatedly then these temporary changes become permanent. These permanent changes will have a huge impact in your overall well-being
Improved Thinking: Regular exercise will permanently increase the volume of your brain’s pre frontal cortex, which as mentioned previously is the executive part of the brain, responsible for high level thinking. This is the part of the brain, which helps you in planning, problem solving and thinking creatively. Having a bigger pre frontal cortex will improve your concentration, makes you more creative and increase your IQ. Other benefits of a bigger pre frontal cortex are improved will power and a mastery over owns emotions.
Think about how even a small improvement in all these factors can have a huge positive impact on your life. People who can plan better and have stronger will power have a much higher chance of succeeding at things, then someone who lacks discipline and is impulsive.
Improves Memory: Just as regular exercise results in permanent increase in the volume of your pre frontal cortex, it also permanently improves your memory. Scientific studies have shown that regular exercise leads to an increase in the volume of your hippocampus.
Hippocampus is the part of our brain, which is associated with our short term and long term memory. Hippocampus plays a crucial part in our learning as this is the part of the brain which transfers information from our short term memory to our long term memory. Alzheimer’s disease is associated with the degradation of Hippocampus. Regular exercise can offset this degradation and hence delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Slows Down Brain Degeneration: As we get old we lose our brain cells. On average the brain of a 60-year-old is 15% smaller than that of a 25-year-old. This explains why many cognitive tasks become difficult as we add more years to our lives. Recent scientific evidence is indicating that exercising releases in our brain the protein called Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor or BDNF. BDNF is associated with survival of existing neurons and growth of new neurons. This is great news as this suggests that by exercising we can slow down the decay of our brains and retain our cognitive skills. Improved cognitive skills are directly related to your well-being, especially in old age.
Exercising is not just about physical well-being as most of us see it. It has a huge effect on our mental well-being also. Think about all the good things that you are missing by not exercising. How many new ideas and solutions to your problems you might have thought of during your workouts? On the first look, exercising may appear as a waste of time. Time which could have been utilized to do other important things. However, scientific evidence is clear: exercising improves our brains and makes us more productive. The return you get from even half an hour of exercising, far outweigh the investment. No wonder the best companies are now paying huge sums of money for the health and well-being of their employees. It is just more profitable that way.