It has long been known that fitness is an essential part of wellness. Maintaining a regular exercise schedule can not only help you stay fit and trim, it can aid with sleep, help you age well, keep bones healthy, alleviate stress and much more. But did you know that in addition to the benefits to the body, exercise provides many benefits to the brain as well? In fact, some research shows that exercise not only protects against heart disease and stroke but also lowers the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and can slow brain aging by 10 years!
What Our Bodies Experience During Exercise
While the health benefits of physical activity are widely known, have you ever wondered exactly what happens in our bodies during exercise to provide these benefits? Exercise sets off a chain reaction of sorts, with all facets working in concert to fuel the body and increase performance and endurance. The basics of what happens to the body during physical activity go like this:
- Communication within the body is engaged and accelerated – molecules are released, and biochemical messages begin to travel from one cell to another.
- Your temperature rises – As your blood pumps through your system, your heart rate increases, your body turns up its calorie burning ability and all of that work raises the body’s core temperature.
- Endorphins, endorphins, endorphins – Sometimes called the feel-good chemicals, endorphins by design, block feelings of fear or pain, giving some people a sense of euphoria.
- Brain function increases – As your heart rate increases, blood flow to the brain also increases, aiding memory and learning in as little as 30 minutes. This bump in blood and oxygen to the brain also makes you more alert and gives you an energy boost that lasts beyond the workout.
- You can relax easier – Studies show that just 30 minutes of exercise a day increases the quality of sleep by as much as 65%. Exercise helps you to de-stress, fall asleep faster and sleep better through the night.
How Exercise Keeps Our Brains Healthy
As the evidence of exercise enhancing brain function continues to grow, doctors and researchers are digging deeper into the ways in which physical activity aids our brains. In one study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers examined 39 studies that looked at the link between exercise and cognitive abilities among people over age 50. They found that aerobic exercise appears to improve a person’s cognitive function and resistance training can enhance a person’s executive function and memory. Strength training has also shown beneficial to brain health through the growth of new neurons and blood vessels though the research into weight and resistance training and brain health is just beginning. In addition, exercises such as yoga, tai chi and specialized breath work were also linked to improvements in cognition. Ultimately, the researchers concluded that 45 minutes to an hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise was good for the brain.
The Research Continues
As the research continues into the many ways in which exercise improves brain function, we know for certain that exercise is an important part of maintaining wellness and living your best life. Looking good and feeling good allows us to stay active longer, reduce stress and perform better at work and play.