Beyond Biceps: How Exercise Helps Your Brain

There are many reasons why it’s wise to get regular exercise. You boost energy levels, burn calories, help maintain a strong physique, and can even sleep better. But while you’re toning that stomach or working on obtaining more bicep definition, there’s something else taking place that does wonders for you. Unlike stronger abs, this is a benefit you can’t physically see—as it turns out, your brain is reaping some serious rewards when you hit the gym or jog around your neighborhood.

Here are six of the ways in which exercise helps your brain, and what that means for your everyday life.

1. Better memory

Physically active people have been observed to have more oxygenation in their brains—something conducive to improved recall. In tests that examined brain activity between active and sedentary participants, it was found that those who were more physically active showed healthier brain patterns linked to improved memory than those who were idle.

2. Improved cognitive testing

Cognitive testing, which is related to the mental processing typically associated with problem solving, is also improved with exercise. Information published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), has shown that among those in older age, exercise helps to maintain a sharp mind and keep cognitive ability stable.

3. May make you smarter

David A. Raichlen, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona who studies human evolution and changing brain size in particular, notes that physical activity and intelligence likely go hand in hand. He explains that through the years, physical endurance has played an increasingly important role in providing the brain with healthy substances that help it thrive.

Healthy brain tissue has resulted, he maintains, from years of our species being involved in survival mode and hunter-gatherer situations. Today, a similar effect takes place; when we exercise, healthy brain tissues linked to increased intelligence are created. Therefore, our ability to reason and problem solve is heightened.

Must Read: 7 Daily Habits That Can Boost Your Memory

4. Boosts mood

Your brain is taxed when you’re stressed. Let’s face it, between work and errands, coupled with unexpected situations, life can become pretty stressful. The brain works hard to regulate chemical changes that result when the body is stressed—something that exercise can control. According to Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, “Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning.”

It’s explained that just 30 minutes of physical activity can increase chemicals in the brain that are associated with calm feelings and reduced tension. So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider a brisk walk or bicycle ride to get your brain—and ultimately your mood—in a relaxed state.

5. Makes you more productive

Along with all of this increased brain oxygenation and proper flow of good-for-you chemicals comes the ability to work faster. Not only does your brain work smarter, have better recall and the ability to reduce stress when you exercise, but it also allows you to perform certain tasks faster—without compromising accuracy.

For example, a study published in Brain and Cognition discovered that after exercising for only 30 minutes, participants were able to complete cognitive tests at a faster pace than they were prior to exercising, and all without any extra mistakes. This clearer, sharper thinking can do wonders when it comes to workplace efficiency or even completing tasks around your own home.

We’ve all had moments where we feel paralyzed over a simple task, only to have a solution kick in a bit later. Diminish those awkward, productivity-robbing scenarios by hitting the gym more often!

6. Wards off Alzheimer’s disease

A part of the brain called the hippocampus is typically the first area that receives Alzheimer’s-related damage. Because this region of the brain is responsible for spatial navigation and memory, it’s important to keep it in top shape. Studies have shown that exercise plays a role in keeping Alzheimer’s disease at bay, and can even thwart its progression.

So, the next time you’re leaning towards skipping your fitness routine, don’t. When you work out, you’re not just whittling your waist or tightening your glutes—you’re also keeping your brain in shape. Every move is putting you one step closer to continued stress relief, Alzheimer’s disease prevention and better problem-solving skills.

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