How Exercise Affects Your Brain
There is no shortage of scientific research supporting the benefits of exercise to our physical health. What you may not know is that your brain has an important commonality with the other muscles in your body - use it or lose it. Sure, subjecting yourself to a grueling workout can help you shed those pesky pounds or build up your biceps - but can exercise actually stimulate physical changes in your brain?
Science offers a resounding 'yes'. Physical exercise, (especially aerobic) seems to have a very positive effect on brain function. In fact, a study by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia found that even a brief 20-minute cycle of exercise helps the brain to process information better and can help to improve memory.
The effect is fairly substantial. The direct benefits of exercise come in the form of reduced inflammation and stimulation of growth hormones - not to mention the growth of new blood vessels and even the proliferation of new brain cells. Let's look at a few practical ways that flexing your muscles benefits your grey matter.
EXERCISE ENHANCES YOUR MEMORY
The hippocampus (the area of the brain the controls learning and memory) seems to respond most directly to aerobic exercise. Recent research reveals that the hippocampus actually grows as fitness levels increase. That finding falls directly in line with further studies that shed light on a substantial boost in memory when we improve our cardiovascular fitness.
In fact, exercise can have a more immediate impact on the learning centers of our minds. German researchers found that walking or bicycling during learning helped individuals in mastering a new foreign language.
EXERCISE STIMULATES YOUR CREATIVITY
Trying to come up with fresh ideas? Work it out - literally. Multiple studies have revealed that something as simple going for a walk helps people to generate new ideas - and the benefit continues even after you stop moving. The hippocampus is also noted as the area of the brain that helps us to imagine the future and to think creatively, so it make sense that growth in this region of the brain could aid in problem solving.
EXERCISE SLOWS COGNITIVE DECLINE
The well-known finding that staying physically fit can keep your brain healthy as you age is something for all of us to consider. The simple fact is that aerobic fitness plays a huge role in preserving our cognitive abilities. Evidence is growing that relatively mild exercise (30 minutes of walking, three times a week) can play a significant role in fending off the onset of dementia. If you're feeling really bold, weightlifting has been shown to have a significant neurological impact. Even an activity as benign and fun as dancing has been shown to improve cognitive well-being.
EXERCISE IMPROVES YOUR CONCENTRATION
Our cluttered lifestyles often leave us distracted, and we can find it difficult to prioritize and focus. In addition to the memory boost, exercise can help you to stay on task. A Dutch study involved breaking up the school lessons of young people with 20-minute sessions of aerobic exercise. Results showed an increase in attention span. And if you're not quite ready to get that intense, take heart. A group of German teens were able to improve their attention with just 10 minutes of simple coordination skills like bouncing balls.
EXERCISE IMPROVES YOUR OVERALL MENTAL HEALTH
So the sooner you can "wrap your mind around it,” the better - physical activity has a profound effect on mood and wellbeing. Evidence is even growing that exercise can aid in the treatment of depression.
Finding time for exercise is essential to maintaining your health. Physical activity not only helps bodily fitness, but is also a vital factor in maintaining good mental health.