”Georgia, do any of your New Year's resolutions include exercise? We hope they do because exercise is not only good for our bodies, but also for our brains! You can learn more in this week's body about the impact of movement on our brains.
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- Learn why moving is the best way to reduce feelings of anxiety
- Find out how to boost your energy and improve your mood
- Exercise is positively linked to brain health.
- Consistently working out increases brain size, prevents memory loss, improves sleep, reduces anxiety and depression, and boosts your mood.
Moving the body literally boosts the brain. Here are a five ways movement can benefit your mental health:
Increases brain size.
Not only does exercise make the existing brain structures healthier, it can increase the size of the brain. Exercise stimulates the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which facilitates the growth of new connections in the brain and improves the health of existing neurons. High-intensity aerobic exercise has been found to increase the volume of the brain regions associated with memory, reasoning, and learning.
Prevents memory loss.
Moving increases oxygen and blood circulation throughout the body, including in the brain. Improved blood circulation in the brain translates to elevated mood and cognitive functioning. Studies show that working out twice a week can prevent the cognitive decline that typically happens with age, like memory loss and brain functionality.
Mindful movement and aerobic exercise indirectly boost mental health by improving sleep patterns—both in the quality and quantity of sleep. Engaging in fitness during the day increases the amount of time spent in deep sleep during the night. Spending more time in the restorative sleep stage not only enhances your immune system functionality, it can help manage stress and anxiety.
Reduces anxiety and depression.
Physical exercise produces an anti-anxiety effect in the brain. Both aerobic and mindful movement, like yoga, help to activate and replenish GABA, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in the body’s response to stress. Regular exercise both decreases and prevents depression—helping the body and brain to relax and de-stress.
Working out enhances chemicals in the brain—like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine—that are associated with improved mood and decreased stress. When we boost our heart rate, our body releases endorphins, resulting in a boost of energy and improved mood. By exercising, your mood can be significantly enhanced by the brain learning to naturally produce these mood-enhancing substances, reducing the stress hormone cortisol.
What impacts our body impacts our brain and vice-versa. Exercise is essential to mental wellness. By working out, we can change and boost our brain functions and structure, helping to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and improve enhanced cognitive functioning, mood, and energy. While it’s always important to recognize that each individual responds uniquely to exercise, using physical movement as a mechanism can enhance our brain for optimal wellness.
More about the Expert:
A Columbia University trained clinical psychologist, Ellie’s approach is grounded in scientifically-backed, evidence-based methods. As a certified mindfulness meditation teacher, she works both inside and outside the therapy room to help others heal, and most importantly, thrive in their lives.