Everyone knows exercise offers a wide variety of benefits for your physical health and helps prevent illnesses such as diabetes. But it also boasts the amazing ability to stimulate your brain. Having remained a mystery until now, the power of exercise on the brain is finally starting to come to light. Scientific research is continuously revealing the numerous mechanisms that regulate it. Find out how a regular workout routine can boost your brainpower, help you look on the bright side of life and practice positive thinking!
The way in which exercise boosts your brain is a complicated topic, but to put it simply, it’s a natural and physiological reflex. Your brain is always adapting to the physical activity and environment it’s subjected to, as we explain in our article about spring fever. An array of mechanisms occur to allow the brain to react in the way it thinks is best when faced with any situation. Exercise stimulates your sensory receptors, which then send information to your central nervous system for processing. The central nervous system then sends commands to your muscle and gland effectors. As a result, exercise stimulates your brain by triggering neurotransmitter and hormone production, which is good news for your mental wellness.
In 2006, a Dutch study was able to confirm the results of previous studies, saying that “… exercisers were on average less anxious, depressed and neurotic […] than non-exercisers.” For this study, scientists used a questionnaire from 1991 to 2002 to collect information from 19,000 people ages 10 to 60, showing how exercise plays an important role in fostering mental wellness and stimulating brain activity. According to scientists, these results could be explained by the fact that exercise stimulates hormone and neurotransmitter production.
Exercise triggers serotonin production. This neurotransmitter takes part in many brain mechanisms that control your body, such as mood, libido, appetite, sleep regulation and body temperature. When you get your muscles working, your brain also produces extra tryptophan, an amino acid your body can’t do without. Not only does it make it easier for you to synthesize serotonin, but it also melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Another perk is that exercise activates your brain’s reward system by producing significantly more dopamine and endorphins. Your brain rewards you for working out by producing these “neurotransmitters” that reduce fatigue, pain and stress while boosting your mood and overall wellness at the same time. That’s why exercise is an excellent way to stimulate your brain and get the hormones flowing for their well-renowned antidepressant effects, leaving you calm and relaxed.
In addition to being a major contributor to mental and physical fitness, exercise also helps protect your brain from cognitive decline. Cognitive function is a broad term that covers your brain’s ability to communicate, concentrate, remember an event, understand your surroundings and build knowledge.
The more you exercise, the more domaine your body produces. Your thinking and working memory thrive on it. Exercise gets your heart pumping and as a result, you burn more calories and increase blood flow in your brain. Better blood flow means better oxygen and carbohydrate supply, giving your brain and neurons the energy they need. That’s when your survival rate and number of synaptic connections increases. As a logical result, your intellectual performance improves.
Other studies conducted on rodents also showed that exercise causes their brains to produce neurotrophins (which induce nerve cell growth) such as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). If you want to know more, you can check out this 2014 study conducted by professors at the Shanghai University of Sport. Studies are currently being conducted to determine a similar phenomenon in humans. This protein is active in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus (a small area of the brain that plays a major role in your memory and ability to navigate through space). These areas are essential to learning, memory, concentration and many other cognitive functions.
If you’ve been curious about the positive effects of exercise on your brain, scientists have now been able to prove just how far they go. With physical activity, you can work your brain just as well as doing a few memory exercises. So put down the brain teasers and start your FizzUp workout to boost your brainpower now!