Whenever the word “exercising” or “fitness” springs to mind, we think about better sleep, maintaining a healthy weight, and well-being. These are all true.
The less obvious, but more important benefit of exercise is its immediate effects on the most important organ in our body: the brain. Many scientific studies suggest that exercising moderately for at least 150 minutes a week improves our body and brain health significantly.
How exercise improves your brain health
Physical activity enhances your cognition helping you think, learn, reducing anxiety, depression, and improving your memory. Here are some ways it achieves that:
It aids the growth of new brain cells. Exercise promotes neurogenesis, which is the formation of new brain cells, and it increases growth factors in the brain that help grow new neuronal connections.
It increases blood flow to the brain. The human brain relies highly on constant blood flow, receiving about 15% of the entire body’s blood supply, which provides oxygen to the brain and ensures that several nervous tissues receive blood supply to preserve their function.
It improves your mood and concentration. Exercise reduces the impact of stress hormones (cortisol, etc.) and increases neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine, which improve vigilance, judgment, reward, and learning processes.
It improves your memory and thinking. Many studies have suggested that regular exercise acts on the hippocampus, the part of your brain that controls thinking and memory. An increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein in the bloodstream that promotes neurogenesis, influences this effect.
It helps you sleep better. It should not even need to be said that exercising helps you sleep better and maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle(circadian rhythm), but it needs to be re-emphasized. People who exercise regularly get more “non-rapid eye movement (NREM)” sleep: the type of deep sleep that rejuvenates your body and improves your brain health.
How you can incorporate moderate exercise into your day
Exercising and keeping fit doesn’t have to be so daunting. Several scientists recommend 150 minutes(2 hours,30 minutes) of moderate physical activity every week.You can break it down to 30 minutes of exercise for 5 days. There are innumerable moderate exercises for beginners, which include walking, swimming, cycling, jogging; dancing, tennis; badminton, soccer; basketball, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, etc. And even household activities can count as well, like gardening, laundering, mopping the floor, or any activity that makes you break out in light sweat. If you don’t feel disciplined or motivated enough to start improving your health by exercising, you can try joining a fitness group, listening to your favourite workout playlist, or signing up for a gym membership class.
“Little drops of water make a mighty ocean,” and this saying is true with exercising, too. Make exercising a lifestyle instead of something you do to gain or lose something. And if you are just starting, start small and then increase the frequency of your exercise if you are inspired to do more. And check in with your doctor if you notice any unusual feelings when exercising. Stay healthy and prosper.
Aine, K, 2020. Exercise and the brain: three ways physical activity changes its very structure. theconversation.com.Available at <https://theconversation.com/exercise-and-the-brain-three-ways-physical-activity-changes-its-very-structure-150203
Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills.[online]health.harvard.edu. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-can-boost-your-memory-and-thinking-skills
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Marvellous Olayinka is a medical student and a freelance medical writer. In her spare time, she reads fiction and non-fiction books, watches Kdramas, and draws with lead pencils.
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