Have you ever taken a hiatus from working out, only to start again months and months later? If so you probably noticed that the exercise wasn’t only changing your body physically, but it also began to change the way your brain was working – for the better.
Immediate improvements in mood and brain function, along with physical improvements, are only the start of the benefits exercise can have on your body. There are also many neurological benefits that can dramatically increase your quality of life and that of humanity as a whole.
So, you may be wondering how exercise can improve brain function in a way that benefits society. Well, some neuroscientists have shown that exercising can improve our ability to focus and shift attention quickly. This could mean an increase in your ability to multitask, or it could mean better performance at work or school. No matter how you achieve it, just getting your blood flowing can help you focus more on even your most difficult tasks.
Perhaps one of the most beneficial effects of exercise is its ability to reduce stress. By exercising a few times a week, you dramatically increase the levels of key neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and noradrenalin. These can often be depleted with inactivity, which can increase the feelings of depression and stress. Combating these heavy emotions with short exercises at least three times a week will allow your stress to melt away.
At this point, if you still don’t have enough motivation to get out there and exercise maybe this will help: exercise has beneficial effects on the hippocampus, a critical brain structure for long-term memory. The hippocampus is one of two areas of the brain where new brain cells are created throughout our lives. Thus, it is important to try and regenerate as many brain cells in this area as possible. If exercise can help you retain your long-term memories why not give it a try?
New studies have shown that physical activity can improve memory by increasing the generation and survival of new hippocampal brain cells. This is achieved as the key growth factor for these brain cells, the Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), is increased. These same studies have suggested that the brain’s hippocampus also gives people the ability to be more imaginative and creative. This means that exercise could allow students to do better at school and adults to be more creative in their workplace, potentially benefitting society as a whole.
Now, imagine if schools took into account all of the amazing effects of exercise. We would begin to see an increase in physical education programs, not a decrease. In turn, this would lead to a more creative, happier, healthier, and less stressed student population. If regular exercise were to become the norm for all children and adults, we could become a more productive society, allowing for exponential growth.
Also of interest for people living in countries with large aging populations like the US, Japan, and Germany is the effect of long-term exercise. Regular exercise throughout your life will dramatically lower your chances of falling prey to cognitive diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. A portion of this effect can be attributed to the life-long build up of millions of healthy and reproducing hippocampal cells. Imagine how much more you could improve your life by simply getting out there and exercising!
This evidence of improved brain function should give you a better understanding as to why exercise is so important for improved mood, better memory, increased productivity in the workplace, and preventing cognitive disease. Exercise should be a part of everybody’s life for multiple reasons. However, the improvements in brain function should be at the top of the list. So stay active and see how your life can improve!