The benefits of exercise are not just limited to better physical health. Recent studies suggest that physical activities are undertaken to improve the body also benefit the brain. Exercise covers a broad range of activities from intense cardio to dancing, yoga, walks, and everything involving bodily movement.
Types of changes
- Molecular and cellular changes
- Neurotransmitters – the body’s chemical messengers including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine
- Functional and structural changes – including changes in form and structure and connectivity in the brain.
- Socio-emotional changes – includes effects on stress, mood, etc.
1. Stimulates growth factors
Exercise stimulates the release of growth factors. These are chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels, and the survival of new brain cells.
Exercise increases the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Their sizes increase and their connections to other parts are strengthened. Exercise promotes the brain’s plasticity by stimulating the growth of new connections between cells in the cortical areas of the brain. The kind of exercise that gets your heart and sweat glands pumping appears to boost the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the area involved in verbal memory and learning.
2. Improves mental health and safeguards against depression
A 2010 study found that yoga and meditation significantly reduced perceived stress. More cell growth in the hippocampus because of exercise is linked to the antidepressant effect of exercise. The study went as far as to say, “thus the suppression of cell proliferation in the hippocampus could constitute one of the mechanisms that underlie depression and physical activity might be an efficient antidepressant.” Health And Fitness: 7 Positive Effects Of Meditation
During exercise, the body releases chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins which are feel-good chemicals. Indirectly exercise improves mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
3. Improves circulation
Exercise increases the heart rate, delivering more oxygen and glucose to the brain. This stimulates the brain’s synapses by preserving the number of receptors. This is observed in the fact that active people have more receptors in the brain than inactive people.
4. Boost memory and learning
It is now widely recognized that exercise improves memory, concentration, and other brain-related functions. Even moderate physical exercise such as taking a walk can boost memory functions. One study found that even a two-minute walk can immediately improve your attention and learning results.
5. Exercise enhances creativity
Creativity may also increase immediately after exercise. Even something as commonplace as a walk can enhance the ability for abstract reasoning. A Stanford study found that walking around campus boosted creative thinking but did not necessarily have the same effect on convergent thinking in which one is required to give the “correct” answer to a standard question. Going for a walk is a great way to think.
6. Exercise slows cognitive decline
The good news is that the mental benefits of exercise are not limited to extreme fitness types. A 30–45-minute walk three times a week can fend off the mental wear and tear and delay the onset of dementia. Weightlifting also has a visible neurological impact as does dancing.
Exercise stimulates the growth of brain cells and connections between them, improved circulation increases the receptors in the brain and it boosts learning, memory, and creativity while slowing down cognitive decline. All this from just moderate physical activity including walking, dancing, bike riding, yoga, running, aerobics, skateboarding, swimming, stair climbing, playing tennis, and even household activities like mopping and raking leaves. Boost your brain, move around a little.