We know that exercise is great for our bodies, but what about our brains? Does going for a run or picking up some weights really affect the health or strength of our brains? The answer is a resounding yes!
This fMRI image from a study out of University of Illinois shows a large increase in brain activity after just 20 minutes of vigorous walking. The reason you may feel 'sharper' after exercising is all the increased blood flow to the brain that results from exercise!
1) Improved Mood
Believe it or not, exercise can help to reduce the feelings and symptoms associated with both short- and long-term depression! In studies done with people currently suffering from depression, physical activity was show to increase feelings of hopefulness and decrease depressive symptoms.
Additionally, in a year follow up with that same population, there was a much lower remission back into a depressive state among people that exercised. It's also been found that people with anxiety tend to suffer less panic attacks when they begin a regime of exercising regularly. So if you tend to suffer from anxiety or depression, or just have had a stressful day and are looking for a boost, look no further than your gym shoes! [source]
2) More Resilient To Stress
Exercising regularly can also help you're brain better adapt to stress! We talked about the negative effect stress has on the brain here, but exercise can not only help you better deal with present stress, but it can make you more resilient when it comes to both physical and emotional stressors in the future as well. [source]
3) Memory Benefits
Exercise has incredible benefits when it comes to improving and preserving your memory. One particular study found that moderate, aerobic exercise significantly improved people's spatial memory (the kind of memory you would use for directions or finding your way through a maze), as well as increased the overall size of the hippocampus (an vital brain structure when it comes to learning and memory). So forget playing those 'brain boosting' games on your phone and just head to the gym! [source]
4) Improved Social Skills
Research from the University of Michigan suggests that exercise can help improve overall social function, especially in adolescents. Team sports specifically can help to build a sense of self-esteem, leadership and even empathy. To get the most out of your exercise, try joining a basketball or volleyball or softball team! [source]
5) Better Sleep
When it comes to getting a better night's sleep, scientific studies have yet to find a better activity then exercise! Exercise raises your core body temperature and then, after exercise, that temperature falls again which can help promote a better nights sleep. Weight lifting has been shown to be an especially effective form of exercise when it comes to falling and staying asleep. [source]
6) New Brain Cells
Exercise, especially cardio exercises like vigorous walking, running or dancing have been shown to actually help your brain to create new neurons (neurogenesis) in areas like the hippocampus, which is a vital brain structure when it comes to learning and memory. So the next time you head out for that walk or run or bike ride, just think about all the new brain cells you'll be getting! [source]
So what's the best form of exercise for our brains?
The answer is everything! The best exercise routine for our brains will involve at least 20 minutes of physical activity (elevated heart rate) 4+ times a week. The key is to it up. Our brains are more challenged when we step outside of our routine, and that includes our exercise routine! If you walk everyday, try alternating walking with light weight training or even core and stretching. A balanced exercise program will include elements of cardio, weight training, balance, stretching and core. At Faithful Workouts, we try to incorporate all of those elements into our exercise videos. Come check us out at Faithfulworkouts.com.
Bree has a masters degree in neuroscience from the University of Iowa, and loves sharing what she's learned about the brain as it relates to health and fitness. In her free time, Bree enjoys swimming, reading, eating, and hanging out with Jesus.