It’s no secret that exercising will improve the physical self. but did you know it also has vast impacts on the brain? In a system that is designed to be in constant, positive feedback, working out can help you to maintain focus, increase your brain cells, and literally make improve your intelligence. Ready to drop a few more squats?! Today we’re diving deeper into brain health, to bring you 10 ways that exercise can make you smarter.
1. Increased Heartrate = Increased Blood Supply
On a basic, physiological level, exercising increases your heart rate. This increase also means that there is an increase in the amount of blood (and therefore oxygen) that is pumped around the body. Not only does this stimulate our physical self, but it also helps to move nutrients and other vitals to the place that consumes them the most- the brain. By increasing the supply of oxygen to the brain, we are providing it with the energy it needs to undertake the complex tasks of our daily lives.
2. Exercise Can Stimulate a Bored, Tired Brain
Getting outdoors to exercise is key to keeping our brains interested, and stimulated. For many of us, going to work usually means being sedentary. Although we have challenging days, once you’ve settled into your job, it’s easy to switch to autopilot. In fact, that’s actually how our brains are designed. We become comfortable in routine, and will actively avoid anything that disrupts that routine.
Exercise, on the other hand, can put you into a variety of environments and situations. It also puts you in touch with other people- and studies have shown that it is that connection with other people that makes it easier to pursue. Whether it’s running around Stanley Park, a group fitness class, or rock climbing, keeping your brain stimulated through a wide variety of exercise and activity is key to keeping your mental acuity.
3. Exercise Increases Your Neural Capacity
Exercise is vital in protecting our brain health. By boosting the amount of oxygen our brain receives, we also enable the release of beneficial proteins (neurotrophins). These proteins protect our brain cells (neurons) and by keeping them healthy we are able to stimulate the production of new neurons, otherwise known as neurogenesis. In this way, exercise can make you smarter by literally increasing our brain capacity, and ability to learn/store new information.
4. Exercise Improves Our Brains Ability to Process Information
Not only does regular exercise stimulate the production of new brain cells, but it can also improve the functioning of existing ones. This neural ‘plasticity’ is a measure of our brain’s ability to transfer information through the synaptic nerves and can have a direct impact in preventing neural diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
5. It’s All About Those Feel-Good Hormones
You’ve probably heard about dopamine and endorphins before, without actually knowing what they’re responsible for. But these ‘mood-boosting’ hormones are literally responsible for feelings of happiness, relaxation and stress relief.
They are produced naturally in the brain and bind to our opioid receptors to regulate pain perception. However, when we exercise or perform any sustained physical activity we are able to stimulate the production of these neurochemicals. Studies have shown that these endorphins are effective in easing symptoms of depression and anxiety, and can help to detoxify the body. Seems like a no-brainer to us!
6. Physical Activity Can Improve Your Memory
As we age we seem to lose the ability to create new memories. However, this is less due to ageing and more due to a lack of stimulation. Being more active during the day has a direct impact on our ability to ingest new information, process it, and retain it. It also helps to keep the brain active, lowering your risk of illnesses that can affect our brain power and memory such as diabetes.
A study from the University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise can boost the size of the hippocampus. Other studies have shown that people who regularly exercise can increase the volume of other areas of the brain (namely the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex), which all contribute to our ability to create and store new memories and information. It stands to reason, then, that exercise can make you smarter simply by increasing the brain’s capacity to process information.
7. Take a Load off and Unwind
Stress is one of the leading causes of inflammation and illness. With our busy and modern lives, it can be difficult to find some time for ourselves with the constant drive for productivity. But just like physical exercise, we can also take advantage of mental exercise to help our bodies unwind and become more adaptable. Using tools like meditation we are able to consciously take time for ourselves, reduce our stress and anxiety, and increase the brain’s capacity for learning.
8. Exercise Can Reprogram the Brain
When we experience anxiety, it is actually an overreaction from the brain, caused by our fight or flight response. Nowadays more than 20% of all diagnoses surrounding mental illness being pointed at anxiety, and research has shown that those suffering from anxiety are 48% more likely to develop brain-degenerative diseases. But with the prevalence of anxiety on the rise, it is becoming increasingly clear that the current solutions do not work effectively.
Exercise, on the other hand, can literally be used to reprogram the brain, and stop it from ‘over-firing.’ This is largely due to the aforementioned benefits in increasing brain volume and capacity, as both factors contribute to our body’s ability to handle stress. By exercising and improving our mental acuity, our neurons have the ability to ‘mature.’
The non-technical explanation is that the maturation of these brain cells means they are more experienced and able to better respond to stressful situations.
On a cellular level, exercise promotes the growth of neurons that release GABA neurotransmitters, which is often referred to as the ‘anti-anxiety’ molecule. The improved release of this neurotransmitter prevents overactive (or understimulated) brain cells from overfiring and helps your brain to identify the real threats, rather than perceived ones. This, in turn, reduces anxiety and can improve our mental focus and clarity.
9. Even Light Exercise Can Make You Smarter
If you are just beginning your exercise journey, or maybe re-starting one, the idea of hours of exercise each week can quickly become intimidating. But studies have shown that even light exercise (that which doesn’t meet the recommended guidelines) can still have a large impact on our brain health. Regular, light intensity exercise, amounting to 7500 steps daily or more, was shown to increase total brain volume amounting to equivalent to “approximately 1.4 to 2.2 years less brain ageing”
10. Get Ready to Feel the Flow
Obviously, regular exercise can improve our fitness, boost our immune system, and increase our energy levels. But this additional energy is good for more than just the exercise itself! By improving our focus and energy levels, exercise can have a direct impact on our ability to enter the ‘flow state.’
If you’ve never heard of the flow state before, flow is considered an optimal state of being. It occurs when we are confident in our abilities, and our mind and body are operating in harmony, allowing you to properly connect with your work. Exercise increases the release of the feel-good chemicals/endorphins, and in doing so can increase our intrinsic motivation, which serves to improve our focus and attention.
By practicing and augmenting these abilities we are able to boost the brain’s ability to take in new information and create new connections with it, thereby improving our mental abilities.
“The mental state of flow also promotes intuition as we access vivid imagery and information beyond our normal conscious awareness.”
Are you ready to boost your mood, and your intelligence, in a fun and safe way? Not only does exercising itself increase your capacity for learning and retention, but there are smarter ways to exercise!
Research has recently confirmed that you will get the best results using a personal trainer, and our Turnfit personal training locations are re-opening in Vancouver! If in-person training isn’t your thing, we also offer a range of online and in-app personal training solutions so you can get the most from your workouts, in the comfort of your own home.
So exercise, smarter, with Turnfit!
About Turnfit Personal Trainers
Turnfit Personal Trainers is founded by David Turnbull or “Coach David” – an experienced and successful Personal Trainer who strives to build happier, healthier lives every day.
With a focus on holistic health, we pride ourselves on making a difference and were recently awarded the 2019 Top Choice Award for Personal Trainer in Vancouver.
Every trainer at Turnfit is committed and relentless in our pursuit to help you reach your health and wellness goals. It’s our mission to help you to build the skills, and mindset, it takes to feel successful in all areas of your life.
We look forward to hearing from you!