Exercise: The ultimate brain-booster

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It’s no secret that exercise is good for us. From our heart health, to appearance, to the way we feel, exercise is one of the most beneficial processes for our bodies.

But did you know that exercise also affects your brain? In fact, exercise is the most transformative action for your brain. Research has revealed that regular aerobic exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus, the part of your brain that protects memory and thinking skills.

More and more research is highlighting these benefits. I recently watched a TED talk on “The brain-changing benefits of exercise” featuring Wendy Suzuki, a neuroscientist who experienced the benefits first-hand when she joined a gym and began attending a range of fitness group classes. She discovered she was not only in a better mood, but could also retain and recall more information.

 

The Science Behind the Benefits

According to Harvard Health, direct benefits of exercise include reducing insulin resistance and inflammation, as well as stimulating the growth of new cells and blood vessels in the brain. Indirectly, exercise improves sleep quality, energy levels, higher self-esteem, mood, stress and anxiety.

When your mind is undergoing difficulty in these areas (such as sleep or anxious thoughts), it can contribute to cognitive impairment, meaning it’s harder to understand and store day-to-day information. Exercise can also protect your brain against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression and can help combat depression.

If nothing else, exercise provides an outlet to relieve stress and encourage you to focus in the moment.

 

How Much?

Aerobic exercise includes those activities that raise your heart rate, such as walking, jogging, running, swimming, climbing, tennis — even dancing. Additionally, everyday activities like sweeping your floors or working in the lawn can do the trick. Standard recommendation is moderate activity for 150 minutes a week, which can be split up into 30-minute sessions across 4-5 days.

If this seems overwhelming or impossible with your busy schedule (let’s face it, students are always on the go), start off with small goals. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Find an on-campus group fitness class you enjoy. UNA offers free group classes ranging from hip-hop to cycling to yoga to interval training. Making exercise a social activity and having a friend to keep you accountable will only make you that much more likely to enjoy working out. Whatever you choose to do, remember some movement is better than none.

 

Mindfulness

One way to take your exercise even further is to pay close attention to what you’re experiencing while exercising. Notice the rhythm of your breathing, or count your steps as your feet hit the ground. This is an additional way to step away from your worries and instead pour your focus into what you’re body is experiencing in the moment.

Exercise, overall, makes positive impacts on not only your body but also your brain. By utilizing movement and getting your blood flowing, you can start strengthening your brain right now. So, what are you waiting for?