Even though exercise may not be the most exciting word in your vocabulary, it sure is a word with a lot of benefits attached. Participating in regular exercise will not only make you healthier in general, but it can also diminish the effects of stress on your body as well. Science is increasingly supporting what we have been feeling for decades: that regular exercise decreases stress and has positive impacts on the brain.
Think about all the times you have heard someone say “the doctor says it’s stress related”. Normally people will laugh it off, concluding that doctors say that when they don’t know the real answers or diagnosis. The truth of the matter is that too much stress will play a role in many diseases.
To help increase your immune system and decrease your stress level, try exercise, as movement is the key word here. Bending, stretching, reaching, lifting and walking. Our bodies are designed to move, so whether you implement an exercise regime into your life or just become conscious of moving more, the science should be motivating for you:
We have heard that when we exercise, chemicals are released in the brain associated with easing depression, like endorphins. Exercise positively effects the brain, and Harvard psychiatrist and author, John Ratey, outlines the amazing things that exercise does for our mood and cognitive function in the video below.
Exercise also helps us speed up the process of neurogenesis, actually helping us to grow new brain cells faster. These new cells tend to damp down our stress response. “The fitter you are, the more stress it takes to get you stressed”, reports Ratey.
Ratey will convince you to exercise more; not just for your body, but your brain too:
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease the overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilise the mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Two separate studies have confirmed that implementing and participating in a 16-week exercise program is equally effective as antidepressant medication in the treatment of mild to moderate depress.
Science is also confirming another positive benefit of exercise on the brain; with all the neurogenesis stimulated by exercise, your brain’s creative power is boosted.
Studies show that exercise is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and enhancing overall cognitive function. With improvements to cognitive function and focus, your productivity and learning capacity will exceed the average person’s, just be adding in more movement into your day.
The endorphins released during exercise improve our ability to sleep, and science has confirmed that sleep regenerates our brain. Good quality sleep helps to boost the brain’s production of cells that form myelin which is the insulating material found around nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. In a study involving mice, the longer mice were kept awake, the more cellular stress they suffered which was observed when genes triggered an increase in cell death.
I am of the firm belief that a strong body equals a strong mind. I practice this myself, and certainly feel more focused and capable when I am exercising a few times a week than if I can only fit in one run a week. We want strong healthy brains with new healthy cells, and not brains that are stressed and sleep deprived, thereby slowing down neurogenesis.
There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between the stress reduction on the brain and the increase in intelligence that regular exercise can provide. Because exercise helps to reduce fatigue and give you more energy, you have more reserves to deal with stress than people who are not fit. Exercise seems to increase the body’s and and brain’s capacity for stress so that the responses a fit person feels to stress is less.
When stress effects the brain, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. So if the body is healthier and feels better and stronger than the average person, so does your mind. If this is not motivating enough to implement a regular exercise routine into your life, then I do not believe you care enough about your mental performance, and you are limiting your potential for success.