Community//

Why Cardio is Good For Your Brain

Cardio isn't just good for the body -- it's also good for the brain!

Woman standing on top of mountain looking at city below
Photo by Morgan Sarkissian on Unsplash

Need a reason to hit the treadmill? Maybe you just bought awesome new running shoes and curated the perfect exercise playlist on Spotify. You could be motivated to work out to lose weight or get that beach body of your dreams.

What if those cardio sessions had additional benefits that you didn’t realize? What if those dreadful hours on the treadmill could lead to something amazing? I’m not just referring to physical benefits. It’s a well-known fact that cardio will help stave off diabetes, obesity, cancer, and other ailments. However, there is mental benefits as well.

Every time you walk, jog, swim, or bike helps lead to success in business and life. Don’t believe me? Just ask billionaires Mark Cuban, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, and Mark Zuckerberg. These successful people all emphasize personal fitness.

“I try to do cardio for at least an hour, six or seven days a week, knowing I’ll miss a day or two now and then because of travel,” says Cuban.

In fact, according to Rich Habits author Tom Corley, over three-fourths of wealthy people exercise consistently. Business Insider recently went so far as to call cardio “the closest thing to a miracle drug that we have.”

How does it work? The science behind it is quite detailed, but there’s two important things to know. The first is that the increased blood flow brings oxygen to the brain. Workouts that boost your heartrate (aerobic/cardio) are especially useful in this regard.

Second, your brain releases all sorts of important chemicals. One of them is called BDNF, which helps brain cell growth, learning, and emotional regulation. One Harvard Medical School professor says, “BDNF is like fertilizer for the brain.” Other important chemicals are dopamine and norepinephrine which help focus and mood.

Still not convinced? See what science has to say about doing cardio:

Concentration

If you’re having trouble reading a book or paying attention in class, consider going for a jog. Cardio’s effects on the hippocampus prove that it helps you focus. Researchers found that 20-minute sessions of aerobic exercise helped Dutch students pay attention to their lessons. A study in the U.S. found that children who did sports after class were better at ignoring distracting, multitasking, and other executive control functions.

Creativity

Calling all writers, artists, and thinkers! It’s time to hit the gym. Aerobic exercises help boost creative thinking. A set of four experiments found that walking helped increase participants creative divergent and convergent thinking. Each experiment was slightly different. Some had subjects walk on a treadmill. Others had subjects sit and then walk, or vice-versa. Regardless, all studies concluded that a quick stroll provides wonderful creative benefits.

Willpower

Psychologist Roy Baumeister famously popularized the idea that willpower is like a muscle. The more you exercise, the stronger it becomes. Practicing self-control by building good habits will improve your life in many ways.

What’s one way to build willpower? Exercise, of course! You’re testing your self-control every time you hit the gym. Every time you lift a dumbbell, run a mile, or swim a lap is an endless battle between mind and body. You’re training your body to not give up even when you’re exhausted. This training helps in work and school too. Your brain will be primed to deal with arduous and repetitive tasks.

Photo by Fil Mazzarino on Unsplash

Mood

Working out releases dopamine and endorphins – two “feel-good” hormones which make you happier. Ever wonder why so many people say you should exercise when stressed or angry? For one, it’s therapeutic to channel those negative emotions into something productive. More importantly, your body releases those mood-boosting hormones to make you feel better.

A study from the American College of Sports Medicine found that young adults who rode a bike for 20 minutes saw an immediate improvement in mood. What’s even more interesting is that exercise helps prevent stress later down the road.

One study found that rats who ran before being forced to swim in cold water were less stressed when compared to those who didn’t run. In other words, exercise helps prepare the brain to deal with stressful situations.

Depression

Working out probably won’t single-handedly cure depression, but it sure can help. It’s mood-boosting effects are especially useful for those suffering from depression.

A pilot study had subjects with severe depression spend a half hour on a treadmill for ten days in a row. Scientists concluded that “physical activity can reduce the severity of symptoms in depressed patients.” Furthermore, they found that even one bout of exercise can improve mood.

Age-Related Decline

Crossword puzzles and sudoku aren’t the only ways to keep one mind’s sharp in old age. Seniors can help combat dementia and Alzheimer’s with exercise. Even a half hour of brisk walking three times a week can help delay dementia.

A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine likewise found exceptional results linked to cardio. Scientists found that regular activity each week boosted subjects’ chances of “healthy aging.” This was defined as having “survived without developing major chronic disease, depressive symptoms, physical or cognitive impairment.”

Learning

One study in Neuroscience found that at monkeys and who regularly exercised were able to learn new things twice as fast when compared to their inactive counterparts.

But how does that affect people? One study looked at people who exercised for three hours a week for six months. Those subjects showed an increase in the hippocampus – part of the brain associated with memory and learning. In other words, exercise literally changes your brain.

Photo by Yuliya Kosolapova on Unsplash

Memory

A study published in Perceptual and Motor Skills had women run on a treadmill before taking tests. Researchers found that those women did 20% better on both memory and problem-solving questions.

A study from the University of British Columbia found that a mere two hours of brisk walking each week improved the brain’s hippocampus. This region, as previously mentioned, helps memory and cognitive skills.

Note that the more intense the exercise, the better. Brisk walking is still very beneficial, but you can get superior results with intense exercise. Try HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or short bursts of dramatic exercise. Turn up the speed or incline on the treadmill. Push yourself to go faster and stronger for the best results.

Sleep

Sleep is something many people overlook. It’s tempting to stay up late and binge the latest Netflix show. However, sleep plays an important role in focus, mood, memory, learning, and productivity.

Want a good night’s rest? Get some exercise first. A poll from National Sleep Foundations discovered that exercise improved sleep quality. The best part is that it didn’t matter when the participants worked out. They found similar results whether the exercises were early in the morning or late at night.

However, the adrenaline can keep you awake. Many experts recommend stopping your workout two hours before bedtime.

Performance

Working out should be a part of your work. Researchers from the University of Bristol found that employees who exercised before work or during lunch were far more productive. They reported:

· 72% were better at time management

· 79% had better mental and interpersonal performance

· 74% managed their workload better

· 41% were more motivated

Additionally, subjects reported being able to handle stress, concentrate, and work without breaks.

Conclusion

Cardio is good not just for the body, but the brain too. A daily session of running, walking, hiking, or dancing can provide countless beneficial effects. Your cardio sessions can help you get ahead in school, business, and life. So what’s your excuse for skipping the treadmill now?

    The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    spring health tips
    Community//

    Spring Cleaning for mind & body with summer just around the corner

    by Stacey Shannon
    Well-Being//

    This Type of Exercise Will Improve Your Body in 13 Different Ways

    by Erin Brodwin
    Community//

    Don’t be Afraid to Workout!

    by Thelis Negron

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.