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Are you ready to exercise your body and your mind? Movement and brain health are inherently interconnected, and research suggests that physical exercise is just as beneficial for the brain as it is for the body. While the brain is the control center for the body, the body also directly impacts the functionality and health of the brain. Engaging in exercise can reduce anxiety and depression, improve mood, boost self-esteem, minimize stress, and enhance cognitive functioning.
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.
Improves sleep. 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.
Boosts mood. 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.