The positive effect which exercising has on the brain isn’t a recent discovery. Socrates, a Greek philosopher (c.470-399 BC), encouraged his students to exercise because he believed it stimulates the intellect. Our 21st century technology allows us to prove what Socrates believed, and more…
Fact’s & benefits
Exercise has more effect on the brain than other parts of the body. Although the brain isn’t a muscle, it becomes stronger through exercise. As well, exercising stimulates motivation, focus and memory.
Now how can the brain grow stronger? Exercise stimulates the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, allowing the brain to receive larger blood supply. Exercising changes the brain anatomy, physiology and function. It affects the hippocampus (see information below), growing new brain cells, the volume of the hippocampus increases, improving long-term memory.
The two areas in the brain most positively affected by exercising are the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus.
Prefrontal cortex: This is the cerebral cortex covering the front part of the frontal lobe (behind your forehead), and it makes up over 10% of the volume of the brain.
This brain region has been implicated in planning, complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision making and moderating social behaviour. The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be an orchestration of thoughts and action in accordance with internal goals.
Hippocampus: Is a small, curved formation (the shape resemblances a seahorse) in the brain and belongs to the limbic system. It plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, and in spatial memory that enables navigation.
It’s involved in the formation of new memories and it’s also associated with learning and emotions.
The prefrontal cortex and hippo campus are the areas most susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases and incline in aging. Exercising makes the brain stronger and can delay the effect of aging on the brain!
One work out has immediate effect on the brain, it releases neurotransmitters (a chemical released by neurons to send signals to other nerve cells) such as:
- Dopamine: Plays a part in controlling movement and emotional responses. It’s very much known as the feel-good hormone. Dopamine enables pleasure, euphoria, reward, motor function, compulsion and preservation.
- Serotonin: It helps to regulate mood and social behaviour, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire and function.
- Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline): Is both a stress hormone and neurotransmitter and plays a role in; the ability to concentrate, increases blood pressure/heart rate, and as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system it increases alertness, arousal and speeds reaction time.
It boosts your BDNF!
BNDF stands for Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which is a protein encode by the BDNF gene, to be found in the brain (active in the hippocampus, cortex and basal fore-brain- areas vital to learning, memory and higher thinking) It improves the function of neurons, encourages their growth and strengthens and protects them against the natural process of cell death. BDNF is a crucial biological link between thought, emotions and movement. If you want to increase your memory, and learning ability, boost your BDNF!
(BDNF is as well expressed in other parts of the body btw)
Studies has shown:
- Aerobic exercise caused a 32% increase in BDNF in adult human male while BDNF decreased 13% in sedentary subjects.
- Students with higher fitness scores have higher test scores
- Vocabulary learning was 20% faster after intense physical exercise
Frequency and intensity of exercising
I must say that the information I’ve found on this subject is very diverse, some recommend 6 hours weekly and others 10 minutes per day. Personally, I would say to vary your exercise regime, a mix of aerobic, strength (lifting weights) and flexibility/mobility training such as Pilates or Yoga. 30 min training is sufficient as long as your workout is intense. Train at least 3 x per week and plan on the days you’re not working out 10-20 min brisk walk, take the stairs (not just 1 floor) or anything you can think of that increases your heart rate. (Come on, treat yourself to a 20 min or more pleasure of sex! It boosts your dopamine levels big time.)
Important is to get the heart rate up. So run, dance, swim, cycle, have sex or combine lifting weights and cardio in a HIIT work out!!
If you want the benefits of being motivated, focused and improve the ability to learn, the best is to work out before you start to work or study. Even a 10 min cardio exercise will give you that boost!
Exercising makes your brain stronger, stimulates the growth of new brain cells and releases neurotransmitters and brain- protein which are important to improve your memory, learning ability, motivation, focus, mood, overall well-being and can delay the effect of aging on the brain.
Get rid of the idea that exercising is just to lose weight or improve your cardio, let’s get smarter!
Note: I collected all above information of studies and researches made by neuroscientists and biologists. (via internet and books)