We’ve often discussed what effect exercise can have on your health but I don’t think we’ve ever mentioned just what kind of profound effect it can have on your brain. The brain is a super powerful organ but it is also a muscle. And, like many of our muscles it needs to be used/trained. Neuroscientist, Daniel Wolpert, argues that the brain exists solely because we move.
A very interesting study was done on the koala years ago. The koala used to have a diet that had quite the variety to it. This caused the koala to constantly be moving from tree to tree in search of the foods that it needed. However, over time the koala realized that it really only needed a specific plant in order to live. The koala became fixed to this particular tree and as a result the koala’s brain shrunk in size. The lack of movement made it so that the koala didn’t need to prioritize brain function anymore.
The same, in essence, rings true for human beings. Countless studies have shown that a brain that is constantly subjected to movement and exercise is a more active brain. Studies have also shown that exercise can improve brain derived neurotrophic factor. This is a particle that creates new pathways in the brain which actually allows the brain to grow, which results in better learning ability. The more movement a body undergoes, the more brain function is required to facilitate the movement because obviously the brain is in control of that movement.
This is also the reason why studies have shown that exercise can improve focus. Kids in California were given a vocabulary test. One group of kids was told to just study the page for 15 minutes while the other group was told to exercise for 10 minutes followed by 5 minutes of studying. The group that did the exercise was able to retain 20% more than the group that simply sat around and studied the information.
The other main piece about why exercise is so important for the brain is what pharmaceutical companies have been trying to hide for years — exercise helps with depression, anxiety, and stress. Of course we all know this, but for those that suffer from these things it can be tough to get going. It’s important to remind those folks that exercise will help them tremendously. Individuals who suffer from depression, anxiety and stress typically have a dopamine system that doesn’t work properly in their brain. Studies have shown that exercise can not only make sure dopamine fires off at the correct rate but it can also create new receptors in the brain to receive dopamine. This means that the brain will have a greater need to get things done, because the reward receptors that give you a sense of accomplishment will be more prevalent.
So, just remember lack of exercise means lack of brain power!
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