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Health and Fitness News

Brain and Brawn

Need another reason to workout? See the effects exercise has on your brain.

It helps you lose weight, reduces your risk of disease, and boosts energy. Need another reason to exercise? How about the fact that physical activity is good for your brain. The control center of your entire body is located in the brain. It’s what makes you move, think, breath, feel, talk, and remember.

You’ve seen the effects aging and disease can have on the brain. Diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s slowly debilitate a person. An amazing thing about exercise is its ability to protect and strengthen your brain against such disease. So never underestimate the benefits your workout provides, whether you notice results or not.

Multiple studies show improved cognitive function and less cognitive decline in active folks compared to those who have a sedentary lifestyle. Here are four ways getting to the gym help your brain stay strong.

It Builds New Cells

Your brain is constantly making new cells as old ones die. As you age, the creation of new cells slows and the brain typically begins to shrink. Cardio exercise, however, can prevent or slow this from happening. Exercise gets your heart pumping, so more blood reaches the brain to provide nutrients and oxygen for building new cells.

As the brain receives oxygen it produces more brain-derived neurotropic factor, BDNF, a chemical that protects brain cells from degeneration, repairs damaged cells, and stimulates the growth of new brain cells—especially in the area of the brain that’s responsible for memory.

The benefits of increased blood flow to the brain are greatest during moderately intense cardio exercise. Stretching and strength-training exercises are still important parts of a balanced workout routine, but activities like jogging, swimming, or cycling are what really get your heart pumping.

It Relieves Depression

Anyone who’s dealt with depression knows how it affects not only your mood but also your ability to concentrate, make decisions, and remember details. Severe depression may require antidepressant drugs to overcome, but mild or occasional depression can often be treated with good old exercise. Someone who’s depressed may not feel like working out, but it can do a world of good.

This is because Exercise increases the body’s production of dopamine and serotonin, two chemicals that work to stabilize and improve your mood. Endorphins, known as feel-good chemicals, are also released during exercise. This feel-good symptom of working out is often referred to as a “runner’s high.”

It Reduces Stress

You know what it’s like to be stressed. Whether it’s financial problems, a sick child, or a failing relationship, stress can cause forgetfulness, scattered thoughts, or trouble remembering things. While the BDNF hormones work to keep your brain young and healthy, the stress hormone cortisol speeds the aging process in the brain. Studies show chronic stress harms cells in the area of the brain responsible for creating new memories. Reverse that damage and build new cells with exercise. Go for a run and you’ll be surprised at how your thoughts clear, your tension eases, and your stress level goes down.

It Improves Learning

Increased blood flow to the brain triggers production of growth factors, brain chemicals that make connections between cells. It’s these connections that foster learning new skills and facts. Like any muscle, you have to use your brain to keep it strong and healthy. Combine exercise with learning new skills for a powerful combination. Learn a sport that requires coordination or a new dance routine for the greatest gains for your brain.