Most people are aware that routine physical activity is essential for overall physical health, but the behind-the-scenes benefits of regular exercise may just surprise you. According to reports published by the American Psychological Association, there’s inarguable evidence to support the hypothesis that exercise improves mental health. How does it work and how can you benefit? The personal training experts at Envision Fitness have the details below.
Brain Health and Exercise
Though most people associate supplements and cognitive activities with improving brain health, exercise is also a fantastic, no-cost tool for boosting the overall condition of your brain. How?
Researchers have found that because physical activity boosts blood circulation to the brain, it increases the quantity of oxygen and critical nutrients the brain regularly receives. Consequently, the brain ramps up its production of hormones and neurotrophic factors that support new brain cell development, improve nerve signaling, and form new nerve connections. Researchers have also discovered that the substances responsible for this uptick in brain activity and cell turnover are frequently lacking in sedentary individuals.
In addition to boosting new cell development and the formation of critical nerve connections, regular exercise is also well known to stimulate the release of a variety of feel-good brain chemicals, including:
Because these endogenously produced chemicals are natural mood boosters, they make you feel happier, more content, and more accomplished when you finish a great workout. And though the positive effects of these substances are quite temporary (they typically last a few hours at most), increased production of these chemicals has a positive effect on long-term mood regulation.
Not sure how to incorporate regular exercise into your day to help improve your brain health? Not to worry — at Envision Fitness, we’ve got you covered! Our personal training team can consult with you to develop a fitness plan that works with your lifestyle, abilities, and existing limitations, so you can sustain a long-term increase in your daily physical activity levels.
Cognitive Function: Can Exercise Help Make You Smarter?
Because exercise increases nutrient and oxygen delivery to your brain, it actually increases brain volume throughout specific regions. The hippocampus, the area which regulates memory retention and learning, is one of the primary regions of the brain that experiences this exercise-related increase in volume.
Researchers have discovered that this phenomenon has profound implications for maintaining cognitive function throughout the aging process, as well as increasing learning and memory even in younger individuals. Aside from improving memory, increased cognitive function also helps with:
● Executive decision-making abilities
● Information processing
● Emotional regulation
But keep in mind that you must sustain a regular exercise habit long term to enjoy improved cognitive function. According to Harvard Medical School researchers, engaging in moderate physical activity on a routine basis over a period of six months or longer is associated with increases in brain volume. Don’t love working out alone? Group fitness classes are a great way to connect with and support other like-minded individuals while improving both your physical and mental health!
How Exercise Affects Depression & Anxiety
Because regular, long-term exercise increases activity and volume in the hippocampus, it stimulates the development of new neurons throughout the region. Why does that matter? Because mounting evidence suggests that the prevalence of mental health conditions — anxiety and depression are the two most common — is tied to suboptimal neurogenesis in the hippocampal region.
Though anecdotal evidence suggests that many people who struggle with depression find exercise challenging, the potential benefits cannot be understated. Anecdotal reports, along with interventional and observational studies, strongly suggest that in terms of depression treatment, regular exercise has profoundly positive outcomes. Study participants have reported that physical activity is more effective than placebo treatments and equal to or better than certain conventional treatments, including psychotherapy.
What about anxiety? Does exercise improve that, too?
Absolutely. In fact, researchers have found that physical activity doesn’t just provide temporary relief from symptoms of anxiety; when practiced on a regular basis, exercise can even prevent anxiety from returning. As we mentioned, physical activity stimulates the release of feel-good hormones and brain chemicals that provide a near-immediate emotional regulating effect.
In addition to the hormones and chemicals mentioned earlier, physical activity also increases the availability of other endogenously produced neurochemicals, which help to regulate symptoms of anxiety naturally. These chemicals include:
● Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA)
● Endogenous cannabinoids
● Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
These powerful, endogenous substances are essentially your brain’s version of a natural anti-anxiety medication — even better, unlike conventional medications, they don’t produce any undesirable side effects!
Aside from ramping up the production of anxiety-leveling brain chemicals, exercise also increases activity in the frontal region of the brain, which regulates the activity of another brain region called the amygdala. Because anxiety sufferers tend to have hyperresponsive amygdalas, their brains perceive even minor stressors as major threats, hence the anxiety response. However, because routine exercise helps control the amygdala’s response to perceived threats, it has proven an incredibly effective tool for anxiety management.
Ready to Take the First Step Toward Changing Your Life? Contact Envision Fitness Today
At Envision Fitness, it’s our goal to empower Twin Cities residents to become the healthiest version of themselves, both physically and mentally. Though custom personal training, group fitness classes, nutrition coaching, and an incredible support network of like-minded individuals, we strive to help our clients develop and maintain sustainable health and fitness habits that stick for life.
If you’re ready to take the first courageous step toward changing your health for the better, we’re ready to help you do it! Feel free to call us at 952-444-2791 to schedule your free consultation today. You can also connect with us online, and we’ll be in touch with you promptly.