It’s pretty common knowledge that exercise helps you feel better, physically and mentally. But have you ever wondered what happens deep down inside our brains that give us that euphoric feeling? Science claims that there are neurobiological effects of physical exercise ranging from change in brain structure, brain function, and cognition.
Doing any kind of physical activity helps, however studies have shown that aerobic activity specifically has been found to increase behavioural and neural plasticity, as well as long term effects such as: increased neurological activity, improved memory, improved stress coping and enhanced cognitive control of behaviour.
So, what exactly is aerobic exercise?
It’s any physical activity that makes you sweat, causes you to breathe harder and gets your heart rate up. It can include anything from: dancing, jogging, biking, hiking etc. You get the idea.
1. Increased energy
2. increases endurance
3. Reduced body fat
4. Reduces stress, anxiety, depression and tension
5. Improved sleep and so on.
What happens in the brain when we exercise?
Increasing brain volume
In the third decade of the human brain, there’s a structural decline in the frontal, parietal and temporal lobes, which is directly related to a broad range of cognitive functions. According to a published study in the Journal of Gerontology, 2006, aerobic exercises have been associated with improved cognitive functioning in aging humans such as: memory, ability to multitask and inhibiting irrelevant information. In the study, the participants were assigned to an aerobic exercise group or a nonaerobic exercise group for 6 months. At the end of the 6 months, it was found that there was an increase in gray and white matter primarily located in the prefrontal and temporal cortices, both of which are related to age-related deterioration.
In turn we see a positive correlation between exercise and increase in brain volume resulting in improved functions such as: planning complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behaviour (which are controlled by the prefrontal lobe) and vision, memory, sensory input, language, emotion, and comprehension (which is controlled by the temporal lobe.
Endorphins in action
Endorphins are chemicals that cross through the gaps between neurons in order to pass along a message. One thing we know about them is that they give us the “oh-so-good” feeling, this is also referred to as the “runner’s high”. Researchers have found that only high intensity cardiovascular exercises increase endorphins, and not the light-moderate exercise. This is because when your body crosses over from an aerobic state to an anaerobic state, it starts operating under insufficient oxygen and that’s where the “runner’s high” takes place.
How do we maximize the benefits of aerobic exercise?
1. Consistency – Make sure to workout at least 5 times a week for 30 minutes.
2. Introduce – High-intensity interval training in your routine. HIIT is a form of cardiovascular exercise where you give 100% effort through quick, intense bursts of exercise followed by short active recovery periods.