There are plenty of great reasons to be physically active. Exercising lowers the risk of serious issues like stroke, diabetes, and heart disease and helps with weight loss and chronic issues resulting from weak muscles.
However, exercising not only benefits the body but also the brain. Physical activity affects thinking skills, memory, and can even reduce the severity of depression and anxiety.
Many notable research efforts have discovered that exercise improves cognitive ability. Experts believe that a lack of physical activity contributes to the widespread prevalence of many metabolic diseases, which then lead to neurological disorders and reductions in cognitive function.
By improving metabolic processes and synaptic plasticity, exercise also improves the brain’s basic functions.
Nearly any type of exercise—even low-intensity activities like yoga and aerobics—can act as a form of stress relief.
One reason for this is that exercise limits the number of stress receptors in the brain. Additionally, exercise is a good chance to add on meditative activities like listening to music or just getting lost in your thoughts.
Physical activity can trigger the production and release of endorphins, the brain’s "feel-good" neurotransmitters. This is why people often experience a “runner’s high” while exercising. What follows is a noticeable boost in mood, which helps how we respond to day-to-day stressors.
This creates a positive loop where a mood boost fights stress, which further improves mood, all thanks to physical activity.
Beyond boosting mood and limiting stress, exercise also has a powerful effect on common mental health issues like depression. Regular physical activity of any intensity protects against future symptoms of depression and may limit its development entirely in some individuals.
Research also points to exercise dropping the mortality rate of mental health conditions like depression, which has been a weak point of many frontline treatments.
Numerous studies suggest that the sections of the brain responsible for memory and thinking are larger in people who exercise regularly. Other research shows growth in these areas after regular exercise for six months to a year.
Additionally, stress levels and depression are major contributors to memory loss. By also fighting stress, exercise works double-time to improve memory.
A growing amount of evidence suggests that regular physical activity not only helps with general cognitive ability but can even help both children and adults focus more.
Some experts attribute this to greater blood flow to the brain and more oxygen release throughout the body. Others point to the diminished effects of stress and depression, which also contribute to a loss of focus.
Many experts have noticed that physical activity helps both children and adults learn more efficiently. Physical fitness has direct links to memory and focus, while also improving alertness and motivation.
Additionally, regular exercise encourages nerve cells to bind to each other, which is the basis for retaining new information. Staying fit also drives the formation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus, improving future learning.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a significant obstacle for many people, affecting their ability to focus in school, at work, and in their personal lives.
Forms of particularly structured exercise, such as martial arts, dance, or gymnastics, not only provide a form of release for people with ADHD but also limit their symptoms outside of physical activities.
Parkinson’s disease affects millions of people across the world, making it the second most common neurodegenerative disorder. While the main cause of the condition is unknown, experts are looking into both genetic and environmental causes.
Because so much about Parkinson’s remains a mystery, treating the condition is often difficult. However, studies show that physical activity provides a long-lasting boost for both non-motor and motor functions in people with Parkinson’s disease.
Findings reveal that physical activity stimulates the release of key chemicals and compounds that are able to limit the effects of many different conditions.
In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, exercise limits inflammation, strengthens the blood-brain barrier, and enhances memory. As a result, active people tend to develop Alzheimer’s less often and later in life than more sedentary individuals and often experience milder symptoms.
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