What Happens To Your Brain When You Exercise?
– A Brief Explanation
When people talk about getting in shape, they usually mean they’re planning on doing some pushups, maybe jogging a few nights a week, so they don’t look quite so porcine around the pool this summer. This is certainly the case for the vast majority of people anyway.
Even dedicated, committed fitness fanatics and the minority of people who try to stay fit all year-round tend to see working-out as a body-centric activity.
That isn’t the case however; regular exercise can be as much of a workout for your brain as it is for your body, and it is just as important for maximising cognitive function as getting your diet on track. This is particularly true for older people, but people of any age can see a significant improvement in focus, awareness, and composure by getting more exercise.
Genuine brain growth
In a recent study conducted by the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise caused an increase in the size of the hippocampus; the area of the brain responsible for various crucial functions such as short and long term memory, and spatial navigation. You can read the full study here.
While this study was conducted with a group of older women, the mechanism that resulted in the growth of the hippocampus remains the same.
Steady-state aerobic exercise stimulates the production of a protein called Fibronectin type III domain-containing protein 5 (FNDC5 for short), which in turn accrues to stimulate the production of another protein, one that is responsible for the growth of new nerves and synapses in the brain, while also working to preserve the brain’s existing cells.
The hippocampus seems to be particularly disposed to growing new neurons, so large amounts of this neurotrophic in the blood causes a quick and noticeable increase in hippocampal volume. The protective function of this protein also serves to maintain your hippocampus at its new, larger size.
Enhancing your mental performance can therefore be done in exactly the same way that you might improve your sports performance; by growing the muscle that will best help you achieve your goals.
Slow and steady
Growing your brain, thereby boosting your brain’s work and memory capacity, does not need to be particularly strenuous or demanding.
Most studies used to determine whether or not exercise has a direct, physiological impact on brain health and work capacity has used steady state cardio as its main method of inducing a raised heart rate.
There is nothing stopping you from doing any type of light exercise that takes your fancy, so long as you have a noticeably raised heart-beat for a prolonged period of time and you break a sweat.
In fact, it is perhaps most effective for brain health if you pick something that is fun, engaging, and requires a lot of hand-eye co-ordination.
If you hate jogging or rowing, a few games of squash or tennis can be just as effective (as long as your heart is working), if not more effective thanks to the need to react quickly and think tactically. Games do not need to be intense; just make your heart work a lot more than it would be if you were at rest.
The peripheral benefits
There is no shortage of secondary benefits to exercise as far as your brain health and mental capacity is concerned. Boosting your mental performance on a given day can be as simple as feeling relaxed, confident, and well rested, all of which can be helped with exercise.
For starters, exercising produces endorphins, making us feel relaxed, content, and happy. To compound that chemical assistance, people will typically feel like they have accomplished something by going on a run, even if it is just for a few kilometres at a relatively slack pace.
Having that feeling first thing in the morning or last thing before bed can either set you up to have a productive, enjoyable day, or get you ready to enjoy a long, unbroken nights sleep, free from stress and worry.
These benefits will play into and accentuate the physiological, brain-building effects of regular exercise. You’ll also get healthier, live longer, and learn a new skill in the process. This is all to be welcomed.
Luke is our Editor in Chief. He is the main driving force behind NaturalNootropic.com, and he creates most of our most important content. He is extremely passionate about enhancing human cognition; he has experimented with many different nootropic substances over the years, sometimes with negative results. He wants to help people get more out of performance-enhancing supplements, and he is fascinated by recent advances in longevity research. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.