Much has been heard about how exercises help the heart of an average person, keeping one trim and in shape. There is however research which shows that exercise is first for the brain before it is for the heart.

Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory like the hippocampus (which is especially receptive to new neuron growth in response to endurance exercise), prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise (often the case in brains of geniuses like Albert Einstein) compared to people who don’t.

“Even more exciting is the finding that 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,” says Dr Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.

According to results of experimental research, exercises are psychoactive; affecting the mind, mood or other mental processes that are involved with faster thinking, better memory, getting things done, trying new things, finding words, sharper listening, sharper vision, quicker reactions, self-confidence, good mood and even safer driving.

By extension, research has also shown exercises to be a cheap replacement for antidepressants; helping in deeper sleep, hence reducing stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.

Cell insulin resistance, a phenomenon that inhibits sugar reduction in the blood, is mitigated by exercise. The importance of this is that the brain gains an all-round boost if sugar is minimised in the cells. A low-sugar diet in combination with regular exercise which keeps insulin resistance at bay and burns off sugar as fat, is so effective for protecting memory and staving off depression.

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Other exertions of the brain are achieved by fasting which wields a big influence on the brain clock and makes room for its full concentration because it now has one less thing to bother about – food, which seizes a great amount of brain concentration. Growing evidence indicates that fasting and exercise trigger similar genes and growth factors that recycle and rejuvenate both your brain and muscle tissues. These growth factors signal brain stem cells and muscle satellite cells to convert into new neurons and new muscle cells respectively. Fasting keeps the neuro-motors, and muscle fibres biologically young.

Christin Anderson, wellness and fitness coordinator of the University of San Francisco, explains that exercise affects many sites within the nervous system and sets off pleasure chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine that make us feel calm, happy, and euphoric. “When one exercises,” Anderson says, “You can think more clearly, perform better, and your morale is better. This is pure science – stimulate your nervous system and function at a higher level.”

Researchers from Princeton University have also reported that physical exercise also helps you combat anxiety by making your brain more resilient during times of stress. In other words, if you don’t want to wait for those good feelings to come by accident, you can bring them on by exercising.