When it comes to our health many of us completely forget about the mind-body connection. And just as our state of mind can have an impact on our physical health, our bodies can influence our brains too – and movement and brain health are inherently interconnected.
There’s plenty of research to suggest that physical exercise is just as beneficial for the brain as it is for the body – just think of how refreshed you feel after that simplest of exercises: a walk.
Engaging in exercise can reduce anxiety and depression, improve your mood, bump up your self-esteem, minimise stress, and enhance your cognitive functioning. Moving your body will literally boost your brain.
There are five ways exercise boosts your brain health:
- It increases the size of your brain and makes new neural connections. Exercise stimulates the release of chemicals that help to forge new connections between neurons. Plus, high-intensity aerobic exercise increases the volume of areas in the brain associated with memory, reasoning, and learning.
- It improves sleep. Working out during the day, means more time spent in deep sleep at night – and this not only boosts your immune system, but can help you to manage stress and anxiety. It’s interesting how more movement can help you be more still and rested!
- It helps to reduce anxiety and depression. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re running or doing something more mindful like yoga. Any exercise helps to activate and replenish a neurotransmitter called GABA, which is vital for your body’s response to stress. Plus, regular exercise can both decrease and help to prevent depression.
- It gives you a natural high. Exercising enhances the brain’s feel-good chemicals: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. And if you boost our heart rate, your body releases endorphins, which results in a boost of energy and improved mood. You also literally sweat out stress hormones like cortisol.
- It prevents memory loss. Remember that your brain isn’t separate from your body, so the increased oxygen and blood circulation during exercise affects your brain too, leading to elevated mood and cognitive functioning. Studies show that exercising twice a week can prevent the cognitive decline that typically happens with age.
The irony of modern life is that we sit more than ever, in a world that is brimming over with exercise choices. If running or walking or biking or going to the gym aren’t doing it for you, try something else – swim, dance, box or try martial arts – but find a way to move your body. Your brain will thank you!