Don’t scrap your New Year Resolutions just because New Year’s has come and gone! Exercising and getting back into fitness are the most common resolutions made at the start of each year. And we make them all with good intentions. We know that exercise gives tremendous benefits to our physical health. But exercising doesn’t just help our bodies prep for the Spring and Summer season. Let’s talk about exercise on the brain.
When you perform physical exercise, you increase your blood flow. You engage your muscles and test out their capacity for a longer duration. Your muscles require more oxygen for this. This means your heart has to be pumping blood faster to get that oxygen circulated.
Increasing blood flow isn’t just limited to those targeted muscles. Your brain is getting that blood too. Exercise, and especially aerobic exercise, has been linked to a number of brain benefits. Below we list our top 3 favourites.
Top 3 Benefits of Exercise on the Brain
1) Aerobic exercise helps boost memory
Yes, you read that correctly! Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise increases the volume of the hippocampus. This is the area of the brain involved with long term memory, learning, and balance. People who en
gaged in aerobic classes have significant improvements to their memory, selection attention, and overall cognitive function when compared with those who received standard care.
2) Exercise enhances our overall cognitive abilities
It is still highly debated whether or not new brain cells (neurons) grow in the adult brain. Many researchers choose to focus on the neuroplasticity of the brain instead. This is our ability to rewire our connections between neurons. However, it’s important to note that in the early 90’s, several studies on rats and primates showed that with increased exercise, some neurogeneration occured in the hippocampus. We still need more studies involving the human brain for a definitive answer. But what we do know for sure is that exercise enhances our overall cognitive abilities. It reduces insulin resistance, and inflammation while simultaneously stimulates the release of growth factors (the chemicals in the brain which affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells). All of this leading to improved thinking!
3) Exercise helps the brain indirectly by improving mood and sleep
Exercising helps to indirectly optimize your brain function by improving your overall mood and your sleep. Running and other aerobic exercise can produce similar effects to antidepressants, often called a “runner’s high”. These effects are also associated with a drop in stress hormones, leaving you with a better mood and less stress. On top of that, there is ample evidence that exercise increases sleep duration and improves sleep quality. Early morning or afternoon exercise is usually the best time to work out. It gets your energy going by pumping endorphins in your brain while preparing you for the coming day’s stressors. Exercise can even help to reset your sleep-wake cycle by raising your body temperature slightly. The drop off later helps trigger sleepiness in the evening.
Don’t just train your body — retrain your brain! If you want to maximize the effects exercise has on your brain, ask us about how neurofeedback can be used for reaching your peak performance goals.