Most of us are well aware of the significant benefits exercise has on our musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. Your heart and lungs become better able to deliver oxygenated blood to your body, your energy levels lift, your bones become stronger, your muscles grow and you become functionally fit… What many of us are less aware of is the fact that training also has AMAZING effects on the health, fitness and function of our brain!
IMPROVE YOUR MEMORY
Your memory is not only able to remember that holiday to Hawaii 10 years ago… Your memory is involved in everything you do! You drove to work today because you remembered how to drive. You got a coffee on the way because you remembered how coffee tastes and feels. You listened to a tune in your car and understood the words because you used your memory of the English language. You recognised your colleagues as you walked in… Your memory is involved in everything!
Did you know that our brain SHRINKS every year by 0.5-1%?? Did you also know that one of the areas that gets affected the most by this decrease in size is our memory centre – Hippocampus? This happens to everyone from about the age of 25 and is one of the reasons why we get poor memory and overall decreased brain function when we get older… Tough right..?! Does it have to be like this?
Good news my friends – the answer is NO. It doesn’t have to be like this! As I shared with the audience at the Australian Fitness Show in Brisbane 2018, you can improve your memory through physical activity!
In fact, studies have shown that elderly people who are active and exercise develop a 2% GROWTH in their hippocampus size over one year! (in comparison to the normal 1% decrease in size in people who do not train).
When we get stressed a hormone called Cortisol (stress hormone) gets released in our bodies. Now, Cortisol is useful in many ways and will help us perform in potentially dangerous situations. The problem is, however, that in this day and age and with the pressures that come with today’s society, we tend to have Cortisol levels that are too high.
Cortisol in large amounts can be very harmful for the body in that it causes heart disease, sleeping disorders, an increase in visceral fat and digestive disorders. What many people do not know is that Cortisol is also extremely poisonous for the brain! In fact, it causes the brain cells in the stress reducing areas of your brain to die…
The good news is that training reduces cortisol levels! During a training session, your Cortisol levels will increase (this is natural during training to help you perform), but after your session the Cortisol levels will drop to a level that is lower than when you started your session. So, after your session your Cortisol levels will be lower than when you started. With time, this amazing effect transfers to everyday life, and your overall Cortisol levels on a day to day basis drop significantly. Plus, your Cortisol will not spike as high anymore when you are faced with potentially stressful situations.
What is truly amazing is that training also promotes cellular growth within the areas of the brain that reduce stress and therefore help keep your brain and stress levels balanced.
Modern science suggests that one of the major causes of depression is a lack of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are simply substances that transmit signals from one brain cell to another. The three main neurotransmitters are serotonin (feeling of balance, harmony and inner strength), noradrenaline (improve concentration and alertness) and dopamine (your ‘feel good’ hormone – the same substance which gets released when you eat good food, interact socially or drink alcohol).
Since depression is caused by a lack of the above-mentioned neurotransmitters, most antidepressant medicines are aimed at increasing the levels of them… Now, in the light of what I have shared above, can you guess what else will increase the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain?
In fact, exercise has been shown to have the SAME effect on mild to moderate depression as antidepressant medication. Medication works well, exercise works well – and science suggests that the best solution is a combination of both.
The same positive impact of exercise goes for many other functions and conditions of the brain: concentration, mood, ADHD… The list is LONG. Fact is: EXERCISE is the most effective way of improving the function and health of your brain!
RECOMMENDED BRAIN DOSAGE
Science suggests that for improved memory a combination of moderate intensity cardio as well as resistance training will have the best effect. Perform your exercise 2-3 times per week and keep it up over a long period of time – preferably a few months for significant results. As for battling depression and stress, the recommended training type is cardio at a high intensity (think running rather than walking).
Please exercise at a minimum of 2-3 times per week and make sure that you stay consistent and keep it up for a minimum of 6-8 weeks!
So the next time you’re lacking motivation to do your workout friends – please don’t just consider the aesthetic, musculoskeletal and cardiovascular benefits of your session. Also think of the amazing effects your training will have on your brain!
Try Swedish Alex’s Yoga Stretches program on the Strong Body app. Details here.