Three Ways Exercise Changes Your Brain
We all know exercise is important for keeping our muscles and heart-health in tip-top shape. What might not be so obvious is the impact it can have on one other important organ: the brain. Staying active doesn’t just keep you looking good, it can quite literally restructure how our brains work!
Here are three underrated benefits that exercise has on our brains:
Exercise makes us happier
While it may not feel like it in the moment, a quick workout can make us happier humans. Just 10 minutes of exercise is enough to get those happy hormones circulating, improving our mood throughout the day.
Getting your heart pumping also makes our brain’s more sensitive to feeling joy. Each decade, adults can lose up to 13 percent of the dopamine receptors but that’s where exercise comes in to save the day. Exercising gives us a boost of dopamine to the part of the brain that’s responsible for motivation, hope and the anticipation of pleasure. With consistent exercise, we’re able to strengthen this reward system pathway and as a result, dopamine production increases and more receptors are available to receive it.
This trick here is to keep it consistent. To really see the mood-enhancing benefits, incorporate some form of activity once a day, even if it’s just 10 minutes of jumping rope or a brisk walk while FaceTime-ing family or friends.
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You’ve probably heard of a ‘runner’s high’, commonly described as a brief relaxing state of euphoria. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a gold medal track-star to reach these moments of bliss. Sustained aerobic exercise of any kind can also do the trick.
But what’s behind this phenomenon and are there any long-term effects?
Initially, scientists put this sensation down to a rush in endorphins, however, recent research suggests that it might be due to the “don’t worry, be happy” chemicals called endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are known to hang around the amygdala (the section of the brain that processes fearful and threatening stimuli and regulates emotional behaviour) and block stress hormones, making us feel more relaxed and content. This chemical also pumps up our dopamine levels, giving our reward centres another much needed jolt.
The effects of this high can make the experience of bonding with others more enjoyable, during and after exercising. Endocannabinoids also reduce social anxiety, so, if you’re really looking to boost this bonding impact, put on some Stevie Nicks and get dancing! Moving in unison to music with a partner is known to amplify a release of endorphins and enhance bonding.
Turns out, simple aerobic exercise is a major asset in improving your memory. New research published in 2021, suggests that exercise helps to better our recall and thinking skills as we age. In better news, even if we begin exercising later in life, being physically fit may improve our memory and reduce the risk of dementia. It’s never too late to pick up a new hobby so why not try your hand at ocean swimming, golf or tennis? You might surprise yourself!
We’re just touching the surface of understanding the complexities of our brains, but what we know for sure is that an active body is crucial for a healthy brain. Our brains are capable of repair, well into the later stages of life.