What happens to your brain when you exercise?

Most aspects of your body can be toned and improved by exercising, but what about your brain? Can exercise also be beneficial to your mental capabilities?

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There are a plethora of reasons as to why you should work out. You may wish to be in better shape, boost your fitness levels, reaping the mental health advantages of it, or just be able to talk without catching your breath while running. Exercise has long been recognised to have positive effects on the body, but what about the brain?

Choosing to run over a TV marathon binge may not only help you maintain your physical health, but scientists have discovered that regular exercise might also assist you in the growth of your brain matter. Exercise not only helps you produce new brain cells, but it can also improve your mood, which can benefit your physical and mental health. Here’s how working out affects your brain and how it can help you.


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According to a study published in the Trends in Neuroscience journal (2002), exercise can help to maintain brain functionality; the research records show that running on the track or on the treadmill boosts the chemicals in your brain that help you learn and protect you against cognitive decline. A neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School, Dr Scott McGinnis says “Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions.”

The hippocampus, which is the centre for memory formation and learning, sees an increase in these molecules, known as a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is a super-charged protein that aids in the preservation of brain circuitry. Low levels of BDNF have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and depression.

According to a study published in the National Academy of Sciences journal, the hippocampus naturally shrinks as people age, which can lead to memory loss or dementia. Exercises that give your heart a good pumping, according to a study by the University of British Columbia, increases the overall size of the hippocampus; however, you must be willing to sweat it out, as balance and resistance training activities do not have the same effect.

As the heart and lungs work overtime during exercise, the body sends more oxygen and blood to the brain, resulting in increased oxygenation, enhanced cerebral blood flow, and brain angiogenesis; the growth of blood vessel growth which can enhance cognitive function and improve the ability to make decisions and think rationally.


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Research has shown that exercise has been able to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, whether or not you obtain the so-called “runner’s high.” Running’s antidepressant impact is attributable to the increased of cell proliferation in the hippocampus, according to a study published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Fun fact, if you exercise in groups, a study published in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Psychology discovered that the brain releases a natural pain-relieving Endogenous Opioid System that promotes and encourages social bonding. A football team that finds the strength to power through to win the game is a good everyday example of this.

Exercise not only improves your heart rate and mood, but it also improves your diet. According to a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, the more vigorously a person exercises, the more likely they are to choose healthier foods. In a study of 2,680 inactive people, researchers discovered that those who began exercising were more likely to pick healthy meals such as lean meats, fruits, and nuts, and were less likely to eat fried foods, soda, and snack foods. In a separate study published in the journal Appetite, researchers discovered that intensive exercise actually kickstarts appetite-regulating hormones.

Zack Yong is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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Zack Yong
Author: Zack Yong

Fulltime learning software engineering. Part time Freelance Writer.