Exercise builds a strong and resilient brain not just a body. While you are exercising and moving you are strengthening your brain’s ability to be creative, alert, perceptive and motivated. It’s helps you learn better, recall more and fight stress, boost your mood and help combat anxiety and depression. When we workout we are building and conditioning both our body and brain. A happy body is a happy brain. A happy brain is a happy body. The great news is it’s never too late to start and actually reverse the negative effects of aging.
Alertness and Perception
The brain is composed of 100 billion neurons that communicate with each other. Neurotransmitters carry electrical signals between neurons and are the key to optimizing brain function. Exercise turns on this activity – activating arousal, attention, the frontal cortex (the executive functioning area) allowing us to engage with the world around us.
Norepinephrine – aids in attention, motivation, perception and arousal.
Serotonin – influences mood, impulsivity, anger and aggression.
Dopamine – governs attention and learning.
Movement and Coordination
The more we move the better we move by stimulating the cerebellum which coordinates the body’s motor movements. The prefrontal cortex directs executive functions – controlling physical actions, receiving input, issuing instructions, managing short-term memory, judging and planning. The more complex the exercise or movement patterns the more we stimulate these cognitive functions. The more the brain fires the better it is stimulated.
Attention and Concentration
The more active we are the better the neurons fire in unison creating specific brain waves. High frequency waves called beta waves dominate when we are focused and processing info. Experts believe that elevated dopamine calms our mind allowing for enhanced focus. They also believe that ADD and ADHD found in youth and adults can be eased or even reversed with physical activity.
Learning and memory functions are concentrated in the hippocampus but needs the help of communication from the prefrontal cortex. Brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) a protein that incites neuronal growth – which is boosted by exercise – makes brain cells function better and live longer.
Physical activity also boosts other hormones levels of insulin- like growth factor (IGF-1), vascular endothelial growth factor and fibroblast growth factor all penetrate the blood-brain barrier and help BDNF to bolster the biochemical machinery of learning. Additionally, IGF-1 helps deliver glucose to neurons that aids in learning.
BDNF also helps the brain create new neurons (neurogenesis) in the hippocampus which is responsible for long-term memory.
Creativity and Imagination
Stimulating the hippocampus also fuels our imagination and creative thinking abilities – allowing us to envision new possibilities and a different future.
Exercise and Mental Health
In addition to bolstering our cognitive abilities, exercise profoundly affects our mental health. Depression has now been linked to depleted levels of certain neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine – all of which are elevated after we exercise. During exercise, our brains also balance hormones which buffers us against stress and anxiety. We also use up more glucose which helps in making more neurotransmitters.
Slowing Down Brain Aging
Exercise keeps our brains young and helps ward off cognitive decline. It not only makes the brain stronger but it protects them. Research slows that physical activity ( the more complex the better) helps the brain produce an enzyme that destroys amyloid beta-protein plaque that’s implicated in Alzheimer’s disease – by strangling neurons.
New studies also show that exercise helps in battling inflammation in the brain, especially when combined with improvements in lifestyle choices: an anti inflammatory diet, reduced exposure to toxins and chemicals, improved sleep and better stress management.
Research shows that a combination of interval based aerobic activity, combined with full – body strength and resistance exercises, and any mindbody exercises that incorporate movement, breathing and visualization are best. Keep it interesting, variable and creative!