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We were born with brains able to craft a sense of connection to others that is as visceral as the feedback coming from our own heart, lungs, and muscles. That is an astonishing thing! We humans can go about most of our lives, sensing and feeling ourselves as separate, but through one small actioncoming together in movementwe dissolve the boundaries that divide us.
What Are The Brain Function And Brain Activity During Exercise
There seems to be no end to the benefits of exercise. Research says it will improve brain function. But before that, lets find out first some brain activities going on while you are doing your exercise routine.
Humans need to move or else fall victim to what is often referred to as the sitting disease.
If the majority of your day is spent sitting, your overall health will suffer, it can lead to weight gain, heart disease, and other serious chronic illness;as you get older.
Lack of movement can lead to heart attack, stroke, and a general loss in quality of life in our senior years.
Everyone agrees that exercise is physically great for the body. However, did you know that exercise also has a wide variety of benefits for the human brain?
What exactly happens in our brains when we exercise to have such an impressive effect on our mental health?
The Body And Brain Connection
The real reason that we feel great when we exercise, get our blood pumping and our muscles firing, is that it makes our brain feel good! Building muscles and conditioning the heart and lungs are essentially just side effects, as there is a biological relationship between the body, the brain, and the mind. And yes, there is a difference between the brain and the mind.
It can be said that the point of exercise is to build and condition the brain. The relationship between food, physical activity, and learning is hardwired into the brains circuitry. To keep our brains at peak performance, therefore, our bodies need to work hard.
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Your Memory May Falter
When University of Maryland researchers scanned the brains of fit older athletes, they found that blood flow to the athletes brainsparticularly to the hippocampus, a structure involved in learning and memorydropped significantly after a 10-day exercise hiatus.
In this study, the reduced blood flow wasnt linked to any declines in brain function, says study author Alfonso Alfini, Ph.D. But other research has linked less blood flow to the hippocampus to mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, he says.
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It may be that the decreased blood flow makes it more difficult to learn or develop new memories, says Devi Nampiaparampil, M.D., a pain management physician at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Exercise And Ptsd And Trauma
Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become unstuck and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD or trauma. Instead of allowing your mind to wander, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles, even your insides as your body moves. Exercises that involve cross movement and that engage both arms and legssuch as walking , running, swimming, weight training, or dancingare some of your best choices.
Outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
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Fact No : Anxiety Damages The Brain
Anxiety is harmful to the brain, but how? Evidence exists that individuals who experience anxiety are 48% more likely to develop dementia.
This is due to cortisol, the stress hormone, which damages parts of the brain involved in memory and complex thinking.
Working towards minimizing your stress, or viewing certain stress as positive, can benefit your brain health. An article I wrote on eustress;explains more how your beliefs about stress affect whether it will be harmful or beneficial.
If you suffer from high stress or anxiety over the very idea of stress, there is still hope for you. Exercise may need a shifting role in your life, which we will explore later in this article.
It Can Make Your Brain More Flexible
Neuroplasticity is the ability of your brain to change when you learn and experience new things. Younger brains are generally better than older ones at doing this, but even those of the same age can have very different capacities.
Scientists believe both aerobic exercise and weight training seem to help make more flexible, or âplastic,â brains.
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How Does Exercise Improve Concentration And Remove Brain Fog
Brain fog, also known as clouding of consciousness is when people experience a degree of cognitive impairment. Symptoms may include poor focus, lack of concentration, and difficulty remembering things.
It can last minutes to decades, depending on the cause.
Doctor Aviva Romm outlines ten different possible causes that may lie at the root of cloudy thinking or brain fog:
- Stress, overwhelm, and distraction
- Thyroid and adrenal imbalances
- Side-effects of medication
The reason why it may happen is wide and varied. It is unlikely that exercising alone will remove brain fog entirely.
But because physical activity improves memory and learning, it also activates different parts of the brain and enables the release of the BDNF chemical and norepinephrine neurotransmitters; these increase alertness, concentration, and energy.
A Look At How Exercise Reprograms The Brain
As we have seen, the brain is capable of producing new neurons. This;is in part because of its neuroplasticity; its ability to continuously regenerate itself.
When a person learns a new skill, interconnected neural circuits form and connect with each other through different points of contact .
Over time, if the person persists in the learning of that skill, the synaptic communication between the neurons will be strengthened.
Kolb & Gibb write how a better connection between the neurons means that the electric signals travel more efficiently when creating or using a new pathway. For example, when trying to recognize a new bird, new connections are made among specific neurons.
A study conducted by Schoenfeld et al. articulates how exercise promotes the growth of neurons in the ventral hippocampus, so people who exercise tend to be able to handle stress better.
What is the hippocampus, exactly? The hippocampus is a deep part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, and it seems to be activated during physical activity.
A hippocampus of a person who lives a sedentary lifestyle consists of younger neurons. We can think of these as neurons as untrained. Younger neurons, are by nature, easily excitable, and fire easily when confronted with a minor stressor.
This, in turn, can make situations, decisions and even thoughts appear more stressful, and make us feel more anxious than they should.
Exercise, as a habitual practice, enables reprogramming of the brain.
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How Does Exercise Affect The Brain
People exercise for different reasons, but many people stay fit to prevent serious health conditions. These conditions include;heart disease, obesity, diabetes,;and stroke .
Other people work out primarily to lose weight. Only a few people exercise with the intent to improve their brain functioning.
Do you think about neurology when you hit the gym? You might after reading this.
Exercise improves cognitive functioning, mental health, and memory; it also hinders the development of certain neurological conditions.
In an article entitled Exercise is Brain Food , Ploughman presents the three dominant neuroscientific theories that explain how physical activity positively impacts cognition.
Now it gets technical. We have several videos to help explain these three theories as to how exercise influences brain chemistry.
For more detail on how brain-derived neurotrophic factor as Miracle Grow for the Brain) works, have a look at the following short video:
Pick Either Aerobic And Anaerobic Exercise For A Healthy Brain
Your brain isnt too picky about the exercise it needs to thrive. All you need to do is ramp up blood circulation to start seeing improvements. Like you learned above, the brain benefits of exercise come from increased blood flow to the region.
High-energy activities like tennis, cycling, swimming, and soccer elevate your heart rate above its resting norm. These movements are considered aerobic exercise and are great at quickly moving blood through your body. Aerobic exercise and brain health go hand in hand. Fast-paced movements increase blood flow in your head and neck, supplying your brain with plenty of oxygen and nutrients.
But it doesnt have to be all aerobic exercise all the time. Anaerobic exercises produce similar brain-boosting results. Resistance movements and strength training are also great ways to work out for your brain.
You dont even have to go all out for your brain to see benefits. Activities like yoga, tai chi, and other low-impact sports hone your concentration skills and focus while lowering stress levels.
See this relationship in action yourself. Protect the health of your brain and body with regular physical activity. Exercise daily and notice how your brain responds.
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The Best Exercises To Build Brain Health
According to the European Heart Journal Not all exercises are created equal .
This means that not all exercises have the same beneficial health outcomes.
Each exercise activates a different part of the body and brain, so there is no such thing as a one size fits all type of activity or exercise plan.
As Gadd highlights, the most effective anti-aging exercises are endurance and high-intensity interval training.
Much of the scientific community agrees that walking is one of the best and most accessible forms of physical activity, and gentle on the joints.
According to Dr. McGinnis , other forms of aerobic exercise that get your blood pumping might yield similar benefits.
If you are looking to target and enhance a specific element of brain health through exercise, the following list may come in handy:
- For brain fog and concentration: Yoga, tai chi, aerobic classes;
- For memory: aerobics, walking, and cycling;
- To improve blood circulation: cardio activities ;
- For stress and anxiety: yoga;
- And for depression: aerobic and resistance training.
Even A Little Bit Of Activity Is Better Than Nothing
If you dont have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, thats okay, too. Start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time. The more you exercise, the more energy youll have, so eventually youll feel ready for a little more. The key is to commit to some moderate physical activityhowever littleon most days. As exercising becomes a habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.
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Do You Still Have Questions
Are you interested in starting an exercise program, but have doubts? Check with your doctor. He or she can give you the go ahead. Your doctor might even have suggestions for which kinds of exercise might be best. If your TBI created other concerns, like balance, weakness, or coordination problems, you might want to check with a physcial therapist to get some specific guidance.
From Craig Hospital, Englewood, Colorado. Reprinted with permission. www.craighospital.org.
What Are The Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise
Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise can improve your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even add years to your life. But thats not what motivates most people to stay active.
People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And its also a powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges.
Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, and ADHD. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood. And you dont have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a real difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to deal with mental health problems, improve your energy and outlook, and get more out of life.
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Overcoming Obstacles To Exercise
Even when you know that exercise will help you feel better, taking that first step is still easier said than done. Obstacles to exercising are very realparticularly when youre also struggling with a mental health issue.
Here are some common barriers and how you can get past them.
Feeling exhausted. When youre tired, depressed, or stressed, it seems that working out will just make you feel worse. But the truth is that physical activity is a powerful energizer. Studies show that regular exercise can dramatically reduce fatigue and increase your energy levels. If you are really feeling tired, promise yourself a quick, 5-minute walk. Chances are, once you get moving youll have more energy and be able to walk for longer.
Feeling overwhelmed. When youre stressed or depressed, the thought of adding another obligation to your busy daily schedule can seem overwhelming. Working out just doesnt seem practical. If you have children, finding childcare while you exercise can also be a big hurdle. However, if you begin thinking of physical activity as a priority , youll soon find ways to fit small amounts of exercise into even the busiest schedule.
Feeling hopeless. Even if youve never exercised before, you can still find ways to comfortably get active. Start slow with easy, low-impact activities a few minutes each day, such as walking or dancing.
So How Much Do You Need To Exercise In Order To Feel Those Benefits
That, says Dr. Suzuki, is the billion-dollar question. Unfortunately, theres no simple answer: 5 pushups or 10 burpees dont automatically release a set amount of dopamine. In her 2017 TED Talk, she recommends trying to fit in 30-minute sessions of exercise 3 to 4 times a week.
But the real answer especially now is to exercise for as long as you can, ideally doing a little bit every day. Even a walk can start to give you those neurotransmitter and mood benefits, she adds.
Many of the positive effects she mentions come from doing cardiovascular exercise that is, any workout that gets your heart rate up. But even this can be more accessible than it feels. A vigorous session of power vacuuming will get your heart pumping, even if you cant go for a run. If your building has stairs, take them instead of an elevator.
Even if you start with just a few minutes a day, its likely that you will end up increasing what youre doing over time. Thats what research in Dr. Suzukis lab has shown. The more exercise you do if you are successful at regularly exercising the more motivation you gain, she says. I dont want to do it some mornings, but then I remember how good it really feels at the end.
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What Happens To Your Brain When You Stop Exercising
What Happens to Your Brain When You Stop Exercising?
Exercise is astounding. No activity positively impacts the function of every organ in your body as much as an exercise session. You probably think your heart is the organ that gets the most conditioning benefits when you work out. Its true. Your cardiovascular system does adapt in a positive way to aerobic training. In response to regular aerobic workouts, your heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood and oxygen to your muscles and tissues. As a result, your endurance improves.
Another organ that benefits from a vigorous workout is your brain, the very body part that defines your personality and makes you who you are. You hear a lot about the brain health benefits of exercise. In fact, some studies show that aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimers disease and Parkinsons disease.
Whats also apparent is that exercise helps prevent brain atrophy, or loss of brain tissue, due to aging. One part of your brain thats closely tied to memory and learning is the hippocampus, a region of the brain that converts short-term memories to longer-term ones. Its this portion of your mind that becomes gradually smaller throughout life. The hippocampus also shrinks in people who have Alzheimers disease.
It May Help You Remember
Aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, or gardening may help your brainâs hippocampus — the part thatâs linked to memory and learning — grow. It also might slow the shrinking of your hippocampus that can lead to memory loss as you get older.
Some studies suggest the regrowth is stronger if you like the activity youâre doing. So find something you enjoy and get going.
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