Have you ever felt like pounding the pavement or doing a couple of sun salutations seems to instantly melt your worries away? It’s not your imagination — but it is your brain.
“What benefits the body benefits the brain,” says Dianna Purvis Jaffin, PhD, director of strategy and program at the Center for Brain Health’s Brain Performance Institute. “You are not a separate brain walking around on top of a body.”
Exercise revs up complex processes inside your mind that can curb depression, help you keep your cool at work, and even one day give Betty White a run for her money. Here are three brain benefits of exercise, plus a look at the science behind them from the inside out.
3 Ways Exercise Benefits Your Brain
1. Boost Your Mental Fitness
Squats for the booty and the brain? Inside your head, there are about 86 billion neurons designed to bark orders to the rest of your body all with the help of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters regulate everything from your mood and sleep cycle, to memory and appetite.
Another A+ fact about exercise and the aging brain? Believe it or not, older adults who exercise actually have larger brain volumes than those who don’t, according to a 2006 University of Illinois study. After six months of aerobic training, study participants had significant increases in both gray and white matter regions of the brain compared to those who participated in non-aerobic stretching and toning activities. Gray matter includes neurons, which are the basic cells of the central nervous system, Jaffin says, and preservation of white matter is associated with improved processing speed.
Plus, the hippocampus, the brain system associated with memory and learning (and often shrinks with age), is larger in people who are active, says Jaffin. This won’t make you smarter, per se, but it will help you remember the important things the older you get. And that’s as good a reason as any to fit in a workout today!
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