Science Proves Our Brain Relies on Physical Activity
Regular Physical Exercise Is Key to a Healthy Brain
Getting physically active is good for your body, but what about your brain? The Science of Exercise shows us that moving around is important for your cognitive health.
Science of Exercise
As we are in the 21st century, every aspect of our modern lives has some kind of scientific involvement, with exercise being no different. It can be hard to know what’s accurate and fair when reading about fitness. Through social media, we are bombarded with uber-slim influencers telling us how to live our lives to gain unrealistic results (real life isn’t photoshopped so there is no perfect body to be had). On the other side, many of us end up livingsedentary lifestyles where we don’t do enough moving around, whether because of our office jobs or spending our free time on the couch.
Neither extreme is good for you, but thankfully we don’t have to live in the extreme. There’s no need to go to the GYM 24/7, but it’s important not to live as a couch potato either. The middle ground of a reasonable level of exercise is a good place to be unless you are an athlete.
Studies have shown conclusively that there are many benefits to exercise. When we talk about exercise in this article, we are referring to physical activity rather than academic exercise or thought exercises. It’s all about getting moving! Studies have shown that regular exercise is beneficial for your physical health, your emotional well-being and mental health, and your cognitive health.
Here we will particularly look at the neuroscience of things and focus on the good stuff physical activity does for our brains! Neuroscientific research into fitness is an area of sciencethat is developing quickly, with many exciting revelations and discoveries being made. One of these revolves around neurogenesis, a crucial brain process for our cognitive well-being.
So just what is neurogenesis? Well, the brain needs to communicate with every part of our bodies, including itself (yes, we really do all talk to ourselves). In order to do this, parts of the brain need to be able to send signals to other parts of the brain, from the brain to the spinal cord and all around the body. This is where neurons come in.
Neurons area type of nerve cell (the brain is, of course, part of the nervous system). Neurons differ from other cells in the body. For one thing, they have a different structure. But as well as this, their role is different. Neurons are messenger cells. They send signals via electricity or chemicals. In 2009, it was estimated that we have somewhere around86 billion neurons in our brains at once (no wonder we lose track of our thoughts!).
Most neurons are made up of a cell body, an axon, and the dendrites. The cell body is the home to the genetic information of the cell and provides the cell with energy. The axon is the part of the neuron that aids in creating electrical signals to send out. The dendrites are a root in the neuron that receives signals and helps translate them.
When we look at neurons, we can divide them into three different types:
Sensory: These neurons allow us to perceive our environment by picking up sensory information such as taste, smell, things we see, physical feelings, and taste.
Motor: These neurons allow our brains to tell parts of the body to move. They don’t just control your arms and legs but also your organs. For example, if you eat something, your stomach will receive signals from motor neurons. Upper motor neurons send signals between the brain and the spinal cord, while lower motor neurons send signals from the spinal cord to organs and muscles.
Interneurons: These neurons are more numerous than the others. Basically, they help the sensory neurons communicate with motor neurons, so when you receive sensory information the interneurons carry that information to motor neurons.
Neurons form synapses when they meet, which can either be electrical synapses or chemical synapses.
So now we know neurons are important, but how does this relate to exercise?
Your Brain Needs Physical Activity
Neurons, like all cells, eventually die, so new ones have to be created in our brains. This is where neurogenesis comes in.New neurons are formed in the brain by a process called neurogenesis. Up until the ‘90s, scientists thought neurogenesis could only occur in an embryo and childhood, and therefore did not occur in adults. However, it’s recently been discovered that we can continue to create new neurons when we are all grown up ina process called adult neurogenesis. This mostly occurs in thehippocampus. The hippocampus is part of the brain’s limbic system, is responsible for forming new memories, and plays a role in learning new things and the regulation of emotions. Neurogenesis is an important function in the brain, and adult neurogenesis can help the brain stay healthy, and even become healthier!
The good news isexercise has been shown to help. This is one of the most exciting findings in the study of the effect of fitness on the brain. Regular exercise aids our brains in the creation of new neurons. This is because being regularly physically active leads to the release of a protein in our brain that helps keep the neurons we have healthy and ensures that new neurons can grow and develop. The hormone is called brain-derived neurotrophic factor.
But That’s Not All!
It’s been shown that exercise has many other positive effects on the brain. For one thing, exercise helps us sleep better, which allows the brain toremove toxins. In addition to this, getting regular exercise helps preserve the frontal cortex, temporal cortex, and parietal cortex. If these areas shrink, we suffer cognitive decline. On top of all that, regular physical activity aids in the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which are all important neurotransmitters.
Exercise has been shown to have many great benefits on the brain, including promotingplasticity, which allows our brains to grow. And if that’s not enough, getting regular exercise also helps us reduce stress and improve our mental health.
Activities and Techniques
We know now that regular physical activity has a lot of benefits. In particular, aerobic exerciseis good for the brain. Aerobic exercises are types of physical activity where our bodies use oxygen to produce energy. This is done through the metabolic system. Aerobic exercises are good for us as they cause our bodies to pump blood faster. Regular aerobic exercises help us transport oxygen around our bodies better, which means more oxygen gets to the brain.
So, what are some examples of aerobic exercises? Movements like walking, swimming, cycling, and running are aerobic exercises. These could be done at a high or low intensity. The important thing about aerobic exercise is that it requires some kind of repetitive movement where the heart rate increases.
Aerobic exercise really does boost the brain, so how can you do it? It is good to get at least 30 minutes of reasonably intense exercise every day. This may seem difficult if you have a busy life. However, small changes can help you be healthier. Taking the stairs instead of an elevator is one way of increasing aerobic exercise. As well as this, you could go for a walk on your way home from work or on your lunch break.
The important thing isbeing consistent. Getting regular exercise is the key to a healthy life. Staying stationary for most of the week and then getting intense exercise on the weekends can cause strain, so it is important to ensure you get a little exercise every day.
An important part of exercise is recovery. It’s important that you don’t go full speed all the time. Your body needs to rest too!
Make sure you have some downtime and don’t go too intense too often. As well as this, what you eat is important. Ensure your diet is balanced and contains proteins, carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables. When you have finished exercising, it’s beneficial to eat protein for recovery and something with vitamin C and zinc as these help with recovery.
Water is of vital importance if you are going to exercise, so make sure you get enough!
Other Benefits of Exercise
Exercise doesn’t just help our brains; it helps our whole bodies! For one thing, getting regular exercise helps reduce inflammation in the body, which leads to us avoiding injury and illness.
Exercise is, of course, very good for the heart and helps us avoid heart disease and even strokes. Exercising regularly lowers our cholesterol, promotes weight loss, and improves bone density.
Exercising can also help our mental health. When we exercise, our brain releases dopamine which makes us happier. And besides, joining a Gym or partaking in a sport is a great way of meeting people and expanding your social circle!
The brain needs you to get moving to stay healthy so take up some aerobic exercise to keep your cognitive health good.
About The Author
NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.
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