The medicinal benefits of exercise for the body are in no doubt and have for a long time been recognized. In fact, history has shown that exercise was being ‘prescribed’ by ‘healers’ and physicians as a form of medicine to help minimize health problems.
But if you’re anything like me, then you’ll likely be undertaking exercise not only for the benefits and effects it has on your body, but also for how it helps your mind, too.
Recently, after a long ride out on the bike, I returned home with, admittedly a pair of pretty tired legs, but also a refreshed mind. And I sat there thinking how cycling – my preferred form of exercise – has to be the ultimate form of therapy. A good bike ride really can fix everything. Well, it has done for me so far ;-)
Cycling has been therapy for me for so many years, but all this time I haven’t really given much thought on the reasons as to why. So, I thought I’d have a read – well a quick read – so as to discover just what makes exercise good for the brain.
Hopefully what I have found and am about to share, will reaffirm to you just how important exercise is. It should therefore also help motivate you to spend more time in the saddle, and even allow you to justify the time you spend in it too.
Right, let’s go…
1. Reduces negative feelings
As I mentioned earlier, helping to rid my mind of any negative feelings is a big reason as to why I exercise. I’m sure you too already know just how good a remedy exercise is for stress, depression and anxiety. Serotonin, dopamine and endorphins are the feel good chemicals that are increased as a result of exercise and what help to lift your mood.
The effects of these chemicals are felt pretty quickly. It’s what the term ‘runners high’ relates to - that euphoric rush you feel from exercise.
But as I’m sure you will have also noticed, these feelings soon fade after exercise. Key is to be repeatedly performing exercise so that the chemicals are continually released. Doing so will also lead to better sleep and improved relationships. Basically, you’ll feel happier, more of the time. And who doesn’t want that?
Also, interestingly is how different types of exercise can help tackle the different types of stressors better than others. For example, if you’re feeling very anxious then hitting the weights is the best thing you can do to remove tension. Whereas if you’re in a bad mood, then pumping out the miles with some cardio – to get that ‘runners high’ – will work best. Alternatively, if you are feeling mentally stressed then yoga or massage are great ways to help your mind recover. Quite simply, find what works best for dealing with the way you are feeling.
2. Improvements to learning and memory
Now I’m going to get a bit scientific with you, well at least try to. And perhaps reveal some benefits of exercise that you may well not have been aware of…
Developments in neuroscience have helped to dispel the myth that the brain is a fixed structure and that the neurons you are born with are all that you will ever have. Instead, new neurons are actually being created all of the time.
What might excite those neurons of yours is how exercising regularly can not only enhance the birth of new neurons but also help them to live longer too. Exercise is able to achieve this because it triggers the production of a protein called ‘Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is best described in Layman’s terms as being ‘fertiliser for the brain’.
If you could buy this fertiliser in the shops – which to point out you can’t, there is no ‘pill’ for BDNF – then on the label it would likely read:
BDNF: taken to maintain and improve memory, along with aiding cognitive skills and learning.
Yes, it really is that good.
Luckily for you, it’s naturally found as a by-product of exercise, and specifically aerobic exercise. So you know what you need to do to get it.
3. Increased productivity
Research is proving that we are more productive at work when we exercise. In fact, a study undertaken at Leeds Metropolitan University found that:
workers who exercised for 30-60 minutes during the workday experienced a 15% uptick in productivity
The study showed that after exercise participants were able to think more clearly and logically - remember that ‘fertiliser for the brain’ I mentioned earlier? Participants stated how they noticed improvements with their decision making - better and faster - and so could complete tasks and solve problems far more efficiently. Further evidence that exercise is great at sparking those breakthrough ideas. So you also now know what you need to do when you hit a creative slump…
These improvements at work achieved through exercise, when sustained, will inevitably lead to greater job satisfaction and in turn, more success. Ultimately, exercise will also help you to better manage your work life balance. As you will feel less stressed, both as a direct result of exercise and because of improvements with performance at work.
Don't underestimate the importance of a fresh mind.
Quite clearly, exercising during work should be encouraged, given the obvious benefits it offers for both employees and employers alike. It is a shame however that some employees still feel a sense of guilt when they pop – or more likely sneak - out at lunch for some exercise. This really does need to change.
There you have it; exercise has some pretty impressive effects on the brain!
What is also important to point out, is how you can’t just rely on exercising your body to look after your brain. You also have to exercise your brain and focus on your mind power so that you can get the most from exercise – it’s a powerful cycle where you need both operating at their best to achieve the greatest results.
We’ve actually written another article on the importance of training your mind, which you can read here. But I think it’s time you took a break from all this academic stuff. Why not go and do some exercise and then come back and read our other article. Given what you now know, you really can’t argue with that now, can you?