Six Ways Physical Activity Benefits Your Brain

Six Ways Physical Activity Benefits Your Brain

Summertime is a great time to be more active, but if you live in the south like me, it can be all too tempting to retreat to air-conditioning and inactivity. Please don't!

One of the books that I've been reading this summer is called The Upward Spiral by neuroscientist Alex Korb. Although the book is often rather technical, it is a fascinating explanation of how our brains are wired, and how we can stimulate various neural circuits to improve our happiness. One of Dr. Korb's first recommendations for creating "an upward spiral" is exercise.

Exercise is such a common recommendation that it is easy to forget what a powerful effect that it has on our bodies. When it comes to brain health, physical activity enhances our well-being in some very specific ways. Here are a few:

1) Improves mood - Physical activity stimulates powerful chemicals in our brain, including the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, and endorphins, which are natural pain-killers. All of these serve to lift our mood.

2) Increases Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) -- Brain derived neurotropic factor is a protein that is produced during exercise, and which causes new neurons to grow. Who doesn't want new neurons? 

3) Improves Memory — A recent study reveals that exercise increases a substance known as cathepsin B , an enzymatic protein that has been shown to increase neuron connections in the hippocampus, the area of the brain connected to memory 

4) Improves insulin sensitivity— Exercise has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, a critical factor in having healthy brain cells since glucose is a main energy source for neurons. A recent study found that only one week of bedrest in healthy young men caused significant insulin resistance! 

5) Improves sleep — People who exercise consistently report better sleep, most likely because exercise decreases stress arousal. As we all know, sleep is essential for a healthy brain! 

6) Reduces inflammation - Regular exercise reduces markers of inflammation throughout the body. Since inflammation aggravates oxidative stress, premature aging, and brain disorders, it is important to do all we can to keep it at bay. 

What about you? What changes do you notice when you are active? Please share your experience in the comments below!