A happy, focused brain: how exercise can help

Physical activity is one of the best tools to prevent some non-communicable diseases and premature death. It is considered a natural anti-depressive, improving our good mood, our memory and our thinking skills. What other benefits can exercise provide to our brain and health in general?

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The benefits of exercise in the body and brain

 Many people stay at home inactive, not knowing that the lack of physical activity is one of the leading risks for death worldwide and that it has a key role in preventing noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.

It is already well known by scientific evidence how necessary and important exercise is, not just because it helps us to stay in good shape, but also because it improves our physical health. What is less acknowledged is how it helps the good functioning of our brain, developing additional capacities in this vital organ. It improves our good mood, acts as a natural anti-depressive, and increases intellectual skills.

 An ally to memory and thinking skills

Physical activity has many advantages; one of them is that it changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills. According to Harvard Health Publishing, a direct way in which this happens comes from the exercise’s ability to reduce insulin resistance and inflammation, stimulating the release of growth factors – chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells. Conversely, exercise benefits our mind indirectly by improving mood and sleep and reducing stress and anxiety.

As affirmed by the magazine, people who exercise have greater volume in parts of the brain responsible for controlling thinking and memory – the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex – than people who don’t practise any physical activity.  These changes emerge little after taking action: for instance, engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions.

A natural anti-depressive

Regular exercise may help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety by releasing feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals (endogenous cannabinoids) and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance a sense of wellbeing. On the other hand, when we exercise, we take our mind off worries,  escaping the cycle of negative thoughts.

Regular exercise can boost confidence by enabling us to meet goals or challenges, and by helping us maintain a good shape a positive self-image.

Exercise yourself! – learn how to start

 There are no excuses to avoid practicing physical activity. The World Health Organization recommends action of people of all ages:

Children and adolescents:

– They should practice at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. Doing it more than 60 minutes daily will provide additional health benefits.

– It should include activities that strengthen muscle and bone, at least three times per week.

Adults:

– They should engage in physical exercise during at least 150 minutes per week when activity is of moderate intensity, or at least 75 minutes in case of vigorously intense activity, or an equivalent combination of both. They may double their moderate activity per week if they wish to benefit from additional health benefits.

– They should perform muscle-strengthening activities involving major muscle groups at least two days a week.

– In the case of senior adults with poor mobility, they should practice physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls a minimum of three days per week.

 

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