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MOVE

TY for exercising. Love, your brain

As a neurologist, I find myself prescribing exercise to patients because it is the most universal medicine for anything that ails us. It helps regulate our body functions (glucose, insulin, blood pressure), and it helps our bodies physically move better (muscles, joints, bones). But what you may not know is, exercise can have dramatically positive impacts on your brain as well.

  1. Improved learning and memory. Physical exercise increases your heart rate and improves the flow of blood and nutrients to the brain. These are thought to be primary factors for improving memory, learning and the ability for abstract reasoning. Studies have also shown that exercise increases the actual size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning.  
  2. Stronger brain. The human brain is capable of building new brain cells (neurogenesis) at any age. Exercise plays a big role in this process helping to increase neurons' creation, survival and resistance to damage. The more you exercise, the stronger your brain will become.
  3. Attitude adjustment. Your brain chemistry is positively affected by exercise. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals that trigger positive feelings) and serotonin (neurotransmitter that works as a natural antidepressant), which improve your mood. Physical exercise also helps to reduce stress levels and anxiety.
  4. Enhanced focus/attention span. Exercise acts as a form of "moving meditation", making it easier to concentrate on a task or become more efficient. After a couple laps in the pool, miles on the bike or yoga poses, you may find yourself forgetting the day's irritations and concentrating only on your body's movements. As you regularly shed daily stressors through moving meditation, you may find you can remain calm and clear headed in everything you do.

In general, anything that is good for your heart is great for your brain. It's never too late to reap the benefits of exercise on the brain and physical fitness. I always recommend starting with activities you enjoy, but to also add variety and challenge to your routine by trying something new. An activity with both physical and mental demands (such as martial arts, ballroom dancing or rock climbing) has a higher impact on cognitive function (thinking, reasoning and remembering) over just exercise or mental tasks alone.

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