Your Brain on Exercise: One of the Keys to a Healthier, Happier You

Take a moment to imagine a world where humans are healthy; where disorders that affect the brain, like Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression, learning disabilities and attention deficit problems are things of the past. A world where children are able to perform better in school than they ever have before and where “learning disabilities” are a thing of the past. A world where everyone is able to maximize their ‘brain power’ and achieve great things. While this may sound like a far-off place, right now, with all of the advancements in research about how our brains function and the treatment of the conditions mentioned above, we are making progress toward living in this world. One exciting and promising development in our understanding of brain function is that exercise can have a powerful and positive effect on our minds’ cognitive and emotional processes.

Get your body moving to improve your memory and learning capacity.

Our brains are indeed wonderful and complex; they are built with an amazing network of circuitry. Our brains are also equipped with the ability to rejuvenate themselves by producing new brain cells. It was once believed that new brain cells could not be formed, but research has shown that exercise actually stimulates the hippocampus (the cell-producing center of the brain responsible for memory and learning) to generate new brain cells, allowing us to improve our verbal memory skills and priming us to learn. Studies have found that regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus and it also helps brain cells communicate more effectively with each other, improving overall mental performance.

This is no doubt why “Zero Hour” physical education programs have been springing up at schools all over the country. These programs provide students with the opportunity to exercise in the morning before school starts, essentially waking up the memory and learning areas of the brain and calming their minds in preparation for the day’s learning. This is a prescription we can all take advantage of! Next time you have a big test to study for or an important educational conference to attend, get your heart and your brain pumping (with a doctor’s clearance, of course). Go for a bike ride or take a walk or do a run to better prepare your brain to take in all of the information you need.

The ultimate spirit-lifter, exercise can help balance the brain’s mood regulators.

Exercise not only helps to strengthen the memory and learning function of our brains, it also helps to balance the brain’s neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine) which help to regulate our moods. Serotonin influences mood, anger and aggressiveness. Norepinephrine influences attention, perception, motivation, and arousal. While dopamine influences the learning, reward, attention, and movement parts of the brain.  When these neurotransmitters are out of balance, they can cause depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorders.  Exercise, along with other treatments, can help balance these neurotransmitters, relieving depression, anxiety and lack of focus in many people. Anyone who exercises regularly can likely attest to the good feeling they have after they complete an exercise session—the perfect example of how much happier your brain may be with a little exercise.

A little bit of exercise goes a long way toward brain health.

Contrary to what you might think, you don’t need to become a marathoner to reap the ‘brain benefits’ of regular exercise. For healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes a week of more intense aerobic activity (such as running). Most importantly, consider this article as a point of inspiration to do your part to unlock that wonderful world of healthier brain function, something that will benefit you—and those around you—for years to come.

Benjamin Pawson

Sports Movement Specialist and Clinical Assistant

3D Physical Therapy and Sports Training

Benjamin Pawson is a sports movement specialist and clinical assistant 3D Physical Therapy and Sports Training (3D PT) which provides functional physical therapy and sports performance training at its Adrian and Tecumseh, Michigan clinics. For more information about 3D PT, please visit www.mi3dpt.com.