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There are numerous benefits that exercise has on the brain, and major mainstream publications have done their share of reporting at least a few of these many benefits. However, I wanted to provide a more comprehensive list of benefits.
It is likely that we will create separate blogs in the future, diving into the mechanisms and specific sub-benefits of each of these, and it is likely that we have not covered the entire gambit, especially when relating to psychology and neurochemistry.
Of course, there are other benefits that exercise has on other systems of the body, that then affect the central nervous system indirectly (i.e. exercise improving the gut microbiome, and therefore improving brain function through a healthier gut).
Spark, By John Ratey is a must read for anyone talking about brain health in the exercise field. So in addition to getting a quick run-through of the list below, reading Spark will give you a more in-depth understanding of some of the basic mechanisms of these higher-level benefits.
Physical activity has been linked to a variety of emotional health outcomes, including:
- Increased Executive Function
- Upregulation of BDNF, IGF-1, and metabolic functioning
- Neurogenesis of cortical gray matter (increased cross-sectional area)
- Antidepressant and anxiety-reducing effects
- General social benefits such as making new friends, enhancing social skills, and gaining confidence in relating to peers.
- Learning about positive and negative emotions and strategies for regulating them
- Faster psychomotor speed
- Improved Spatial Memory Performance
- Greater attentional processing
- Increased levels of self-esteem
Norepinephrine is released, improving attention, perception and motivation.
- Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is release protecting and repairing neurons from injury and degeneration.
- Hormones combine with BDNF to grow brain cells, regulate mood and provide mental clarity.
- The hippocampus, a part of the brain concerned with learning and memory, grows in size with regular exercise over time.
- Endorphins are released, dulling the sensation of pain.
Serotonin is released enhancing mood.
- Blood flow to the brain increases, delivering more oxygen and nutrients and improving waste removal.
- Dopamine is released, improving motivation, focus and learning.
Moral of the Story
Exercise, it’s good for you.