How exercise improves the strength of your brain

There is a large body of research that shows positive effects of exercise on our brain. In short, neuroscientists have found 2 main improvements. First, exercise improves alertness, attention and motivation. Second, it stimulates the storage of new information in your brain.  In short, exercising will make you smarter.

That is the good news. The bad news is that it takes real effort. There are no magic pills, super effective 2 minute workouts, or other shortcuts. If you want to exercise your brain (your brain can actually increase in size), you have to put in the work. Similar to your muscles, your brain needs training to grow.

What kind of exercise?

Cardiovascular training
Get your heart rate up by running, cycling, or circuit training.

Sports that need motor abilities
Exercise that demands coordination forces your mind to work more compared to jogging. You think of tennis, basketball, or anything else that needs motor skills.

Stretching and Flexibility workouts
Flexibility is often overlooked. Even by people who workout for years.  Stretching, and being more flexible in general, will decrease the risk of injuries. For example, you have more chances of back injuring if you have short hamstrings.

Switch things up. Are going to the gym for 3 times a week for years? Take up Yoga. Are you addicted to spinning class? Hit the weights once per week. The key is to have variety in your exercise routines. This is not only good for your body, but also your mind.

Training Intensity
The real magic happens at higher intensity. This is only recommended for people who are not new to exercising. Starting with high-intensity workouts is harmful if you do not have at least 6-8 months of consistent daily exercise under your belt. Researchers recommend to have at least 30 minutes of exercise 6 days a week. If you are new to exercise, start by taking 30-minute walks. Every day. You will start feeling better immediately.

Working out at high intensity (70%-90% of your maximum heart rate), stimulates a lot of dopamine. The same happy chemical that is associated with sex, food, and social interactions. Serotonin is also affected by exercise. This has a positive effect on your self-esteem.

No matter how hard you train, working out at low intensity has benefits. Next time you don’t feel like going to the gym, remind yourself that is the exact reason you are going. You will feel better after your workout. Don’t trust me, trust the science.

 

 

3 comments

  1. As Donald Trump would say: “Exercise: It’s HUUUUGE!”

    I just finished reading John Ratey’s book Spark, which is all about the science of how exercise affects the brain. The key takeaway: If you’re not exercising or at least moving your body as much as possible on a daily basis… you’re missing out big time.

  2. Statnam Mipham’s wonderful book Running with the Mind of Meditation draws some interesting parallels between running as exercise for the body and meditation as exercise for the mind: both demand patience, persistence and perseverance as we strengthen our abilities to exercise 20 minutes at a time through to 4 hours.

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