By Emily Taggart
Studies have documented the positive effect exercise can have on your mood. As a researcher in San Francisco has stated, exercise releases important chemicals in your brain that regulate how we feel. Getting out and taking a walk or going for a jog stimulates the production of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, substances that make us feel more at ease and happy. And a happy brain is a more well-functioning brain.
One study in 2001 tested the theory that exercise improves mood and fights depression. In this study, 80 volunteers were recruited to get an hour a day of exercise. Of this group, 65 percent of them had signs of depression before the study began. After 10 months of exercise, these subjects felt less tense, angry, and unhappy. They even felt better than another group of subjects who took antidepressants during the study period. And another study showed a similar effect in school children. Children who got exercise during recess were calmer and better able to concentrate back in the classroom.
What’s more, exercise not only enhances your mood and makes it easier to relax and learn, it also stimulates the production of stem cells in the brain. These important cells are the building blocks of brain tissue, without which the organ cannot repair itself and grow. Exercise thus literally increases the size of your brain.
One recent study involving 21 students in Illinois showed this to be true. Students who ran on treadmills during the study performed better on memorization tests than those students who sat quietly and did not exercise. Other researchers found that just 20 minutes a day of walking helped a group of children perform better on academic tests.
Another critical component of brain activity is a steady supply of oxygen to the sensitive organ. Without a good deal of fresh oxygen, the brain becomes lethargic, with a significant slowing down of critical cognitive functioning. And what’s the best way to oxygenate the blood that flows to the brain? Exercise, of course. Exercise protects and stimulates thinking by flooding the brain with oxygen. Children who exercise demonstrate higher mental acuity as a result of more richly oxygenated blood.
Keeping the brain healthy into older ages is important too. Many studies into Alzheimer’s disease have shown that stimulation of the brain helps keep the debilitating disease at bay. This stimulation includes both mental exercises, keeping the brain active with new and challenging activities, and physical exercises as well. Getting the blood flowing to the brain can significantly stave off the tissue deterioration linked to Alzheimer’s.
In other words, a workout in the body has direct effects on our thoughts and cognitive abilities. More and more, science is teaching us how body health and mental health are linked. Regular exercise can indeed make you smarter.
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- Which exercises can ward off dementia, Alzheimer’s disease? (wtvr.com)
- Four Clinical Trials Further Clarify The Role Of Physical Activity In Cognitive Function And Dementia (prnewswire.com)
- neuroscience and exercising (social-brain.com)
- Strength training key in preventing Alzheimer’s (thechart.blogs.cnn.com)