The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
TABLE OF CONTENT1. Three Ways Physical Activity Changes the Brain Structure
We know physical activity is good for health, and that the benefits of exercise aids in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease, avoidance of age-related muscle loss, and weight management. But there’s substantial research on the effects of physical activity on the structure and function of the brain, and how it impacts your mental and cognitive health.
Three Ways Physical Activity Changes the Brain Structure
Regular exercise changes the structure of our bodies’ tissues by reducing fat storage and increasing muscle mass. More importantly, excuse has a profound influence on the structure of our brains – an influence that can protect and preserve brain health and function throughout life.
Here are some of the ways exercises impacts the structure of our brain:
A healthy network of blood vessels is the root to maintain a healthy brain.
Regular exercise increases the growth of new blood vessels in the brain by increasing blood supply that supports the development of new neurons, improves the health and function so existing blood vessels, ensuring that brain tissue consistently receives adequate blood supply to meet its needs and preserve its function.
Finally, regular exercise can prevent, and even treat, hypertension (high blood pressure), which is a risk factor for development of dementia. Exercise works in multiple ways to enhance the health and function of blood vessels in the brain.
Many studies suggest that exercise can help protect our memory as we age. This is because exercise has been shown to prevent the loss of total brain volume (which can lead to lower cognitive function), as well as preventing shrinkage in specific brain regions associated with memory. For example, one magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan study revealed that in older adults, six months of exercise training increases brain volume. Another study showed that shrinkage of the hippocampus (a brain region essential for learning and memory) in older people can be reversed by regular walking.
One likely mechanism is that maternal exercise appears to significantly increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a nerve growth factor produced and secreted in some regions of the brain—including the hippocampus, which is largely responsible for learning and memory. BDNF protects existing neurons while encouraging new neurons to grow, survive, and proliferate.
BDNF is essential for healthy cognitive function due to its roles in cell survival, plasticity (the brain’s ability to change and adapt from experience) and function. BDNF is also one of several proteins linked with adult neurogenesis, the brain’s ability to modify its structure by developing new neurons throughout adulthood. Neurogenesis occurs only in very few brain regions – one of which is the hippocampus – and thus may be a central mechanism involved in learning and memory. Regular physical activity may protect memory in the long term by inducing neurogenesis via BDNF.
Aging may affects your immune functions and increase the risk of neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s disease, As we age, microglia (resident immune cells of the brain) become less efficient at clearing damage, and less able to prevent disease and inflammation. This means neuroinflammation can progress, impairing brain functions – including memory. But exercising can modulate inflammation in the brain, making it an important factor for therapy and disease prevention.
What Are the Mental Health Benefits of Exercise?
Exercise is a powerful depression fighter, and a natural anti-anxiety treatment for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases Endorphins in the brain that energizes your spirits, relaxes the muscles, and relieve tension in the body, leaving you feeling good!
Regular exercise is one of the easiest and most effective way to reduce symptoms of ADHD, and improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s focus and attention, which work in a similar way as ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.
Even if you are not suffering from a mental health problem, regular physical activity can still offer you the following health benefits:
Sharper memory and thinking. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.
Better sleep. Even short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can help regulate your sleep patterns. If you prefer to exercise at night, relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.
More energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise per day and increase your workout as you feel more energized.
Stronger resilience. Not only does exercise aids in building resilience against emotional challenges in life, exercising regularly can help to boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress too.
Higher self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful. You’ll feel better about your appearance and, by meeting even small exercise goals, you’ll feel a sense of achievement.
Although we do not have robust enough evidence to develop specific guidelines for brain health, findings to date suggest that the greatest benefits are to be gained by aerobic exercise – such as walking, running, or cycling. It is recommended that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise, combined with activities that maintain strength and flexibility, to maintain good general health.
Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. (online) Available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509. [Accessed on 19 Jan. 2021]
Exercise Promotes the Expression of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) through the Action of the Ketone Body β-Hydroxybutyrate. (online) Available at: https://doi.org/10.7554/elife.15092. [Accessed on 19 Jan. 2021]
Physical Activity and Risk of Neurodegenerative Disease: A Systematic Review of Prospective Evidence. (online) Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/s0033291708003681. [Accessed on 19 Jan. 2021]
Phillips, Cristy. “Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Depression, and Physical Activity: Making the Neuroplastic Connection.” Neural Plasticity, vol. 2017, 2017, pp. 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/7260130. [Accessed on 19 Jan. 2021]
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The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. (online) Available at: www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm.