Exercising the Body and Brain

healthy-person-woman-sportStudies have shown a strong relationship between the health of the body and the health of the brain. Exercise revs up complex processes inside the brain that can deter depression, help you stay calm and keep your mind sharp.

Exercise Boosts Mental Fitness

The brain has approximately 86 billion neurons designed to give orders to the rest of the body through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Studies show that deficiencies of two of these neurotransmitters (glutamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA), can lead to mood disorders such as depression. However, moderate exercise can increase the amounts of these two transmitters contributing to increased mental fitness.

Exercise Decreases Stress

When you’re stressed, your brain secretes the “fight or flight” hormone, cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels can create a constant and unnecessary feeling of stress. But, if you exercise, you expose your body to “controlled stress”, which helps regulate your brain’s stress response, keeping you more calm.

Almost one-fourth of Canadians reports experiencing high levels of stress. When stress becomes overwhelming and interferes with your quality of life, it can cause health issues.

The following tips can help you reduce, manage, and avoid stress in your life:

  • Set realistic goals for yourself and allow yourself enough time to accomplish them.
  • Focus on what you can control, and avoid stressing about things you cannot change.
  • Have a positive attitude. Avoid negative thoughts.
  • Use available resources. If you need help, ask for it!
  • Breathe. Don’t feel bad about taking a break when you absolutely need to.
  • Consider regular meditation or exercise to help you stay focused and to curb stress before it appears.

Exercise Slows the Brain’s Aging Process

Your brain ages just like the rest of your body, but exercise can help the brain handle natural, age-related deterioration without taking a toll on your memory. Older adults who exercise have larger brain volumes than those who don’t. Plus, the brain’s hippocampus (which is responsible for memory and learning) is larger in people who are active. Exercising won’t make you smarter, per se, but it will help you remember things better as you age.

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