What would you say if I told you that exercise could not only have a positive impact on your mood, productivity and energy but could also quite possibly change the trajectory of your life?
Neuro-scientist Wendy Suziki’s research suggests that the powerful effects of moving your body has both immediate and long-term protective power that shouldn’t be taken lightly if you want to maintain good health. Suziki argues that ‘exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your brain’, as it not only provides immediate positive effects but also protects the brain from mental health issues like depression and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
In this blog post I investigate how moving your body can change your life for the better and how much movement you should really be doing to get all the positive benefits.
What do we know about the effects of exercise on the brain?
The brain is a complex structure. When looking at the impact exercise has on your brain there are two main areas of focus – the prefontal vortex and the hippocampus. The prefrontal vortex is behind your forehead and is responsible for your decision making, focus, attention and your personality. Then there’s the hippocampus which is critical for your memory. Both areas play a key role when looking at the positive influence exercise has on the brain, which I’ve expanded on further below:
Moving your body at a moderate to intense level has an immediate effect on your mood. 1 workout will increase levels of neurochemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline which, in turn, can help you feel happier and more energised. When it comes to your mental health, one study explains that ‘the importance of exercise is not adequately understood or appreciated by patients and mental health professionals alike. Evidence has suggested that exercise may be an often-neglected intervention in mental health care. Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. These improvements in mood are proposed to be caused by exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain.’
Suziki explains in her study that working out can improve your re-action time and your ability to focus for at least 2 hours after you finish exercising. These immediate effects impact you right away, however if you want to get the long-lasting powerful effects, you need to move your body and work on improving your cardio respiratory function on a consistent basis.
Regular exercise increases what’s called ‘growth factors’, which are proteins that help you better learn and remember information. By stimulating the birth of brand-new brain cells in the hippocampus (which is critical for long term memory as mentioned previously), regular exercise over a long period of time essentially protects your memory and brain. Think of your brain as a muscle – the more you exercise the stronger your hippocampus and prefrontal vortex gets. These areas are susceptible to degenerative disease and cognitive decline due to ageing, so although you’re not going to cure things like dementia and Alzheimer’s by working out, what you will do is make the hippocampus and prefrontal vortex strong enough so that it takes longer for these diseases to have an effect. Essentially exercise changes the brains physiology and function for the better!
How much exercise is enough exercise?
You don’t have to become a triathlete to get the positive effects of exercise. At a minimum, studies suggest that you should be looking at 3-4 workouts a week, each at least around 30 mins long. Each period of exercise should be at moderate to high intensity – you need to get your heart rate up in line with your ability and fitness level. These 30 minutes need not be continuous and can be broken up if needed across the day.
Remember, health benefits from regular exercise aren’t limited to mood, focus and memory. Other benefits include:
- Improved sleep
- Increased sex drive
- Better physical endurance
- Stress relief
- Reduced cholesterol & improved cardiovascular fitness
All of which help to build a stronger, happier and healthier you.
Making exercise a part of your life and participating in regular movement that you enjoy and can sustain, will not only give you a happier life today, but it will also protect your brain for the future. Get out, get active and notice the changes!