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What happens to your brain when you exercise?

By Dillon Wallace

Everyone knows the basics of physical exercise on the body. It helps you build muscle, burn calories and lose fat.

But, have you wondered what’s going on in your brain during exercise? Why getting in a good sweat session can help alleviate tons of ailments, such as depression, dementia, memory loss, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s – the list goes on.

Well, if you’ve never thought about what’s going on upstairs in your noggin during a workout, you should start right here because if exercise was a drug, we’d all be filling that prescription.


The Good fight

The moment you start exercising, your brain essentially goes into protection mode because it feels your body under stress. Sounds intense, right? It is, but in a good way.

As your heart pressure increases, your brain essentially tries to “fight” the stress by releasing a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). What BDNF does is act as a reparative element to your memory neurons. It’s like hitting a reset button, which is why the clouds seem to part in your mind and you feel so at ease.


That Happy Feeling

That feeling of sudden happiness comes from the mass amounts of endorphins – another chemical compound to fight stress – that are released to your brain and nervous system during exercise. They’re like your back up cheer infantry armed to fight the discomfort and ease the pain of your workout while flooding you with a sense of euphoria.

Because of this release of endorphins and BDNF, exercise can often be linked to the sensation of taking drugs because of its similar addictive behavior; however, unlike morphine, alcohol, heroine or nicotine, exercise is actually good for you.

Of course, everything comes in moderation. Too much exercise – too often and pushing yourself too hard – can actually break down your body and mind rather than build them up.


Exercise vs. Inactivity

During exercise there’s a lot triggering and firing in the brain. While science has been able to link a plethora of mental health benefits to exercise, we still don’t have all the answers. But what we do know is this: Just 20 minutes of exercise provides healthier brain activity than sitting idly, even mentally concentrating or studying.


The Stats Don’t Lie:

Check out these quick takeaways that highlight the benefit of regular exercise on your melon.

  • Increases activity and connectivity of the temporal lobe, responsible for story memory sensory memories
  • BDNF repairs brain neurons to help prevent dementia, Alzheimer’s and brain aging
  • Endorphins help reduce stress and anxiety that lead to depression
  • Promotes faster reaction times and vocabulary learning
  • Reduces cognitive decline in seniors
  • Helps aid in sleep, both falling and staying asleep

There you have it, the answer to your brain on exercise. Turns out exercise and happiness go together like beer and pizza, coffee and donuts … probably not the most appropriate analogies, but you get the point. 

Now, if only it was easy to get into the habit of exercising regularly to partake in these awesome benefits, right? 

Brain need a break from all your newfound exercise activity? Check out our 5 ways to calm your mind before bed.

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