We all know that working out is crucial to growing your muscle mass, but did you know that exercise is also key to growing your brain? We’ve done the research (quite a bit, actually) and can confirm that working out yields benefits beyond a hot body. Here are five ways that sweating actually makes you stronger AND smarter.
1. NEUROGENESIS (aka You’re Growing New Brain Cells)
If you’ve ever felt like a lab rat running on an exercise wheel while on the treadmill, it might surprise you that you’re not only growing greater aerobic endurance and muscles, you’re also growing brain cells. The growth of brain cells is a process known as neurogenesis and exercise has been proven to stimulate the adult stem cells to divide and reproduce in our brains.
2. REVERSE SHRINKAGE
Wisdom may accompany age, but unfortunately, so do memory lapses. Many of us have started to experience that common, yet slightly scary memory lapse, where we can easily recall the lyrics to Haircut 100’s hit songs (both of them), but can’t remember why we walked into a room. The bad news is that the memory decline associated with aging comes from the natural shrinking of the hippocampus (the area of the brain that’s responsible for learning and memory). The good news is that this region of the brain is highly active when we exercise and that aerobic activity can reverse the shrinking process.
3. GO WITH THE (BLOOD) FLOW
Working out increases blood flow to the entire body and the brain is no exception. Increased blood flow means increased oxygen and nutrients are delivered to your noggin, and that means increased cognitive function. Studies show that exercisers not only learn faster and think clearer, they also recover from brain injuries such as stroke, much faster than sedentary people.
4. COMBATTING DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY
When you’re feeling down in the dumps, you know that even making the most trivial decisions seems like too much effort. Even mild depression slows down the brain’s ability to concentrate and focus. Exercise has been clinically proven to boost the brain’s production of neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine – chemicals that are important to feeling happy. According to the Merck Manual, dopamine regulates muscle movement, motivation and the sensation of pleasure. Serotonin primarily affects mood, impulsiveness and social behaviors.
Read more on the New York Times Health Blog
Feeling scattered, forgetful and flustered when you’re stressed out? Blame the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which are released as a “flight or fight” response. Although our modern lifestyle doesn’t include running from man-eating predators, that late night email from your boss and evasive driving on your morning commute still flood our bodies with those stress hormones. Regular exercise lowers these levels of cortisol and adrenaline and boosts the body’s levels of endorphins. When you’re feeling relaxed, your brain is at its most clear thinking and creative mode.
Recent studies published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that regular exercise can rewire our brains to become more flexible and adaptable when confronted with stressful situations.
So good news. You totally CAN run away from your problems and work them out by working out.