Exercise and Your Brain

It is no secret that exercise is great for your body, but what about your brain? Your brain is part of your body after-all, a crucial part that can sometimes seem to have a mind of its own. Increasing amounts of research are proving that working from the outside in may be the key to improving brain health. The secret? Exercise.

Not only do people feel better and function better when they exercise, science can show us actual physical changes in the brain induced by exercise. Working out can result in three important physical changes in the brain.

The first physical improvement is the increase in acetylcholine receptors in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter directly linked to muscular movement in the peripheral nervous system. Moving more increases your number of transmitters. In the prefrontal cortex, acetylcholine plays a role in attention, and learning. Using exercise to increase the amount of acetylcholine receptors has the added benefit of improving attention and learning.

The second physical improvement is an increase in neuroplasticity. The idea that the adult brain can produce new cells is a fairly recent scientific finding. Even more recent is the discovery that exercise is one of the best ways to increase neuroplasticity. Exercise promotes the production of something called Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor, BDNF, which is crucial for the development of new neurons. As we age, we lose neurons, so get moving to fend off the aging process and improve your mental acuity.

The third physical improvement is the enlargement of hippocampus volume. A study performed by the University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercise can boost the size of a person’s hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for learning and verbal memory. Increasing actual brain volume may correspond with an improvement in cognitive performance.

In addition to these three physical changes in the brain from regular exercise there are also many benefits of acute exercise. These benefits include an improvement in cognitive function post exercise due to an increase in blood flow to the brain as well as an increase in energy and a reduction in stress and anxiety. Exercise creates an increase in serotonin, causing that “feel good” sensation post workout.

To get the greatest cognitive benefits from your exercise program perform a combination of aerobic training and resistance training that challenges you but does not fully exhaust you. The Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia found that even just twenty minutes of exercise facilitates information processing.

Every day new research proves the benefits of exercise. Movement not only makes up look better and feel better, it also makes us work better. Adding in exercise doesn’t need to be a huge life change. Start by moving a bit more and add in more as you feel comfortable. It’s a great time of year for a lunchtime stroll!