Exercise is like a drug. It changes the brain’s anatomy, physiology and function . . . but in a good way!
Most of us are familiar with the ways in which exercise improves our bodies. It improves circulation, makes your heart stronger, and builds lean muscles along with a handful of other benefits. What's more difficult is understanding the connection between a good sweat sesh and our brains. We can't necessarily see it, but we can feel it. Let's walk through it.
When you begin to exercise, your brain releases endorphins. Endorphins are a chemical used to fight stress. According to this research paper by MK McGovern, "endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria." These endorphins can also help your brain become more resistant to stress and pain. This is why you feel that "high" after a workout. Almost like you just got back from a two week beach vacation.
Exercise not only makes you happier and allows you to cope with stress more effectively, it's also associated with learning and better memory. Exercise causes neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons. These new neurons are created in the hippocampus, the center of learning and memory in the brain. These denser neural connections lead to a measurable increase in brainpower. Ever come up with wild ideas during your workouts? You can thank your hippocampus for that.
Even just a quick 20 minute walk around the block or quick set of squats before a big meeting can get your brain firing and those endorphins flowing. Next time you've got a big day ahead of you, be sure to squeeze in your favorite class or that long run. Your brain will thank you.