Today, we're diving into the fascinating topic of why physical activity is beneficial for our mental well-being. You may have noticed that after a good workout, you feel amazing both physically and mentally. Well, there's a reason for that, and it all has to do with our brains.
We all know that exercise has positive effects on our bodies, improving our cardiovascular health and increasing our strength and fitness. But it turns out it also has profound effects on our brains. By understanding these effects, we can truly appreciate the importance of incorporating an exercise routine into our day. So, get ready to discover the amazing ways in which your brain loves exercise!
What Happens Inside Our Brains During Exercise?
When we work out, our brain cells release neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that act on the different brain regions, influencing our executive function, stress response and even our short-term and long-term memory consolidation.
One of the key neurotransmitters released during physical exercise is dopamine, often referred to as the "feel-good" hormone. The release of dopamine enhances motivation, focus, and learning abilities.
The blood flow to the brain is increased, delivering more oxygen and nutrients while eliminating waste. This improved circulation contributes to its overall health and optimal function.
Another key neurotransmitter is serotonin, which plays a role in regulating mood. Regular exercise leads to the release of serotonin, potentially providing similar effects to antidepressant medications after several weeks of consistent physical activity.
Stretching can trigger the release of endorphins, which act as natural pain relievers. This can contribute to a sense of well-being and reduced discomfort associated with moving our bodies.
Physical activity leads to increased circulating levels of catecholamines, stress hormones, that can improve attention, perception, and motivation. These hormones also help us stay focused and engaged during exercise.
It is also known to stimulate the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that is important for neuron health and brain plasticity. This has been found to benefit cognitive functions such as learning and memory formation. Furthermore, aerobic exercise has been observed to have a positive impact on executive functions controlled by the prefrontal cortex, improving cognitive processes such as multitasking, planning, and self-control.
Engaging in physical activity regularly has even been shown to bring about changes in the brain, such as an increase in the size of the hippocampus, the area responsible for learning and memory. MRI studies support this phenomenon, which is known as neuroplasticity.
Overall, the numerous benefits of physical activity on the brain may explain why it is associated with a sense of calm, decreased feelings of anxiety and depression and improved cognitive function.
Sleep and Exercise
Active people can sleep better. Numerous studies have shown a positive association between physical activity and improved sleep quality and quantity. Who doesn't want to wake up feeling more rested in the morning?
When we engage in any form of physical exercise, our body temperature rises, and our heart rate goes up. This increase in body temperature and heart rate helps to regulate our sleep-wake cycle, also known as our circadian rhythm. By engaging in exercise earlier in the day, it can help promote a natural drop in body temperature in the evening, signaling to our body that it is time to sleep. On the reverse, vigorous exercise close to bedtime will make it harder to fall asleep.
Any form of exercise can help to tire out the body, and when combined with its relaxation benefits, it can contribute to a more restful and uninterrupted sleep.
Take Away Points
The effects of exercise are truly remarkable! Here are the key takeaways:
1) Exercise boosts the release of neurotransmitters that regulate our mood leading to mental health benefits.
2) It helps to lower stress levels.
3) Exercise improves our mental alertness and cognitive abilities allowing us to concentrate better on specific tasks or objectives.
4) It has the ability to change our brains and promote neurogenesis which is important for learning, memory, and preventing brain diseases like Alzheimers dementia, a neurodegenerative disease.
5) Lastly, staying active helps us sleep better which in turn slows down cognitive decline and provides additional psychological benefits.
So, get your running shoes and remember that your brain is thanking you for it!