The 5 Mental Benefits Of Exercise

How your exercise routine can help you live your optimal brain function

April 16, 2016 | By Sara Jackson

We all know that exercise is great for getting you in good shape, but did you know that exercise has just as many great benefits for brains as it does for bums? When Elle Woods in Legally Blonde bases her murder case on endorphins created after exercise, arguing: “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t!”, she actually had a point.

But apart from the ‘good buzz’ that prevents you murdering your partner, what else does exercise do for your mental health?

According to scientific studies, 20 minutes of moderate exercise daily boosts your brain immensely. Here are 5 ways that physical exercise boots your mental capability and allows you to live your optimal mental capacity:

1. Increases Blood Flow

Both our neurons and our brain cells need lots of oxygen to work at their best, in fact, the brain uses up about 20% of the oxygen in your body. Exercising increases blood flow, meaning more oxygen is carried to your brain so it can function well.

To help your blood flow along, why not ditch public transport and walk just a little bit of your way to and from work, as this would keep your brain and body fresh before or after a long day in the office.

2. Keeps You Focused For Longer

Exercise enhances your brain function in the short term by raising your focus for 2 or 3 hours afterwards. At least, that is the research that Dr. John Ratey, presents in his book ‘Spark – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain’, which suggests that is why we feel so energized after a workout.

So if you’re flagging at work or have a big presentation to deliver, even just standing up and doing some stretches can help to stay focused for longer. You should also try to get in the routine of standing and moving away from your desk for just a few minutes at regular intervals throughout the day to keep your concentration at a high.

3. Helps Brain Cell Regeneration

Exercising can increase neurogenesis, which is when your brain is growing new tissues and neurons. These can be produced at a mind-blowing rate of 700 new neurons a day(!). 

One study from Edinburgh University recently found that moderate exercise like walking is even better than Sudoku or cross words at reducing brain shrinkage. This is because exercise helps you produce the chemical BNDF (Brain Derived Neuro-trophic Factor) which stimulates the growth of brain cells, particularly in the hippocampus, the part of your brain that is mostly responsible for your memory and that is very vulnerable to age-related mental decline like Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

4. Reduces Stress

Exercise also creates chemicals in the brain that can reduce your number of cells like cortisol, also know as the stress hormone, which ages your brain by decreasing the number of cells in your hippocampus, where you create new memories.

This is why stress sometimes causes forgetfulness, and slower thinking. Exercise helps reduce your cortisol levels and increases your brain capacity, a double-whammy to maintain and boost your brain function.

5. Fights Depression And Anxiety

Depression is a very serious illness and, of course, severe depression and anxiety requires professional help. However, for less severe cases, exercise can help by giving you those famous endorphins, as well as can increase the production of serotonin and dopamine in the body, both of which lift your mood. These can help fight milder cases of depression, where your brain slows down its information processing, meaning it is harder for depressed or anxious people to concentrate or make decisions.

So if you are reading this whilst lying on the sofa, try and challenge yourself to get up and do even some small bits of exercise to look after your mind and body today.

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