Everyone knows the benefits of sports: good sleep, a healthy heart and a toned body. But people rarely think about the effects of workouts on the most important organ, the brain. Neuroscientist and New York University professor Wendy Suzuki has explained how exercising improves a person’s cognitive abilities and helps them live longer.
1. Exercise reduces anxiety
Studies have shown that with every movement, many beneficial neurotransmitters, among them dopamine and serotonin, enter the brain. These substances can reduce anxiety and depression.
Just 10 to 30 minutes of physical activity a day is enough to lift your mood. Don’t have a club card at the fitness center? Then take a walk or choose the stairs instead of the elevator. Suzuki writes that when she’s completely short on time, she simply walks around her dining room table several times.
2. Exercise improves concentration
In one of her lab experiments, Suzuki found that even one workout can improve concentration. After a 30-minute workout, the effect lasts at least 2 hours. In addition, studies have shown that these exercises can improve reaction speed.
It’s best to opt for an activity that speeds up your heart rate, such as brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling, playing tennis, or jumping rope.
3. Exercise promotes the growth of new cells in the brain
Scientists have found another benefit of exercising for the brain. They found that exercises promotes neurogenesis, that is, the appearance of new cells in the brain. This is especially important for improving cognitive abilities.
During experiments on rats and mice, scientists found that running accelerates the creation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory function. Exercise can also improve the health and function of synapses between neurons, allowing brain cells to communicate better.
4. Exercising protects the brain from aging and neurodegenerative diseases
Think of your brain as a muscle: the more you exercise it, the better it will perform. Studies have shown that regular exercise increases the size of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which are prone to neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Of course, exercise cannot stop aging, but it can noticeably slow it down. It is not necessary to become a triathlete, just three workouts a week for 30 minutes is enough. Most useful are aerobic exercises, which speed up your heartbeat and oxygenate your brain.
If this amount of exercise scares you yet, start exercising a few minutes a day and build up the time by 5 to 10 minutes each week. Don’t forget about home activities; vigorous scrubbing of floors or leaf-cleaning also counts.