The Immediate and Long-Term Benefits of Exercise on Your Brain

in Blog

Key Takeaways:

  • Modern amenities and the new work from home lifestyle has led to a decrease in physical activity that effects our general wellbeing and brain health.
  • The addition of moderate physical activity has immediate health benefits, improved mood, energy, sleep quality and brain function.
  • Moderate physical activity can also benefit your brain in the long-term, improving brain repair and blood flow and reducing chances of dementia.

Exercise, Providing More Health Benefits Than You Think

The next time you start losing the motivation to keep working out, start thinking of it as an investment for the future. Anybody that thinks the only purpose of exercising is to build muscles or stay physically fit, does not truly understand the full purpose of exercising. Beyond the physical, exercise has been proven to have positive effects on the psychological, emotional, mental, and social parts of people.

A recent study from the UK chief medical officer observed that performing at least 150 minutes of exercise in a week will keep adults healthy. To put that in perspective, that is less than 22 minutes a day!  Whether you think you are physically fit or not, an exercise scheme included in your daily routine will do you well, both for today and the long-term. Research from WHO has shown that insufficiently active people have a 20 - 30% chance of increased death, and as of 2020, 80% of the world adolescent population were found insufficiently active.

The Modern Problem

Studies from WHO have shown that lives are becoming increasingly sedentary in modern days. People can go a whole day without having to do a single form of strenuous physical activity that is healthy. With modern amenities the extent of our physical activity is walking to and from the car. While you may think technology has made our lives easier it isn’t doing our health and justice. In the past, walking or cycling to work and then physically ascending and descending a 5-story building almost every day had a positive effect.

Man working on laptop on his couch

The presence of remote working now does not even require an individual to get out of bed to survive. People can lay in bed for half the day and occasionally move to chairs, grabbing the nearest snack every half-hour and still get huge paychecks rolling in.

While this sedentary lifestyle has its benefits, it also affects the physical health of individuals. Some of the consequences of this lifestyle on individuals include;

  • Excess weight gain
  • Reduced sleep duration
  • Poor cardio health
  • Increased risk of cancer and diabetes.
  • Detriment to brain health

Benefits Of Exercise on The Brain

Exercising will help the brain both short term and in the long run. Let us consider some of the short-term, immediate benefits of exercise;

1.   Alleviation Of Depression:

Have you ever wondered what happens when you are feeling very down, sad and depressed, and then decide to go for a run and return feeling energetic, fit, and happy? This is what happens; when you exercise, the body releases endorphins. These chemicals are known to reduce the perception of pain in the body and trigger a positive feeling which immediately replaces the feeling of depression.

The next time you are feeling down, get up and trigger the release of endorphins in your body. Exercises like; swimming, walking, jogging, dancing, bike riding, running, playing tennis, doing house chores, golf and yoga can give you an instant mood lift.

Women Jumping in front of chalk design of rocket ship

2.   Instant Energy Boost:

One would expect to feel tired and lazy after a rigorous bout of exercise. On the contrary, a good exercise session usually leaves an individual feeling more energized. This is because there is in increase in blood flow to provide more oxygen to both your muscles and your brain. If you have a lot of work to do in a day, or you are going to give a speech or presentation, a good practice is to start the day exercising. This way, your body is put into a higher energy mode, and you are motivated enough to do a large amount of work.

Women waking up and looking out of window with sunrise

3.   Boost Your Sleep:

Want a better night’s sleep? A good exercise routine will help you. Studies have shown that exercise reduces insomnia in patients. It is during deep sleep, that some of the tired and torn muscles are replaced and your brain forms new connections. The endorphin that is released when you exercise carries you on a high energy level all day long, and when it phases out, your body is going to need a good sleep.

4.   Better Brain Function:

There is a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). This protein, specifically a growth factor, helps brain cells to make connections with each other, thus improving brain functionality including memory and learning. Research shows that levels of BDNF are elevated during physical activity. This means the more you exercise, the more BDNF you will produce and the better memory you will have, especially as you age.  

Women thinking with drawing of brain and moving cogs in background

Long-Term Bran Health Benefits

1.   Improved Brain Repair Mechanism:

Whether you have a bad fall or are just the victim of cell damage over time your body is constantly trying to replace and repair damaged cells, this includes those in your brain. Lucky for you, a 2018 study suggest that daily physical activity led to an increase in the amount of active stem cells in the brain allowing for improved neural repair and replacement. These results make sense, as a 2011 study observed that running for three times a week for 40 minutes, not only prevented brain shrinkage; but actually increased the size of key areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus which play an important role in memory.

2.   Improved Blood Flow:

High blood pressure and cognitive decline is very common among adults today. Poor blood flow can lead to high blood pressure which can damage the capillaries in the brain, and a reduction in your brains ability to receive oxygen and nutrients. Over time this leads to cognitive decline. Exercise on the other hand can improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure by increasing the strength of the heart and through angiogenesis (creation of new blood vessels). With improved blood flow and reduced blood pressure your brain will receive the oxygen and the nutrients it requires, slowing the rate of cognitive decline as you age.

Gold Brain with gold lighting bolds going into it

3.   Reduced Risk of Dementia:

Dementia is defined as any chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning. Dementia includes Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, among many other cognitive impairment diseases. Lifestyle Improvements in your diet, a reduction in smoking and, you guested it, exercises can drastically reduce your changes of dementia.  Walking as little as 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) a day can reduce the chances of dementia as you age. If you include a healthy diet along with exercise, it can cut your risk of dementia in half. Even if you up there in age, it isn’t too late to start exercising  as a 2020 study observed that aerobic exercise improved the memory of those advanced in age who already had mild cognitive impairment.

Closing Remarks:

While you might feel like you do not need to get moving, and your body is doing well without exercise as a young individual, signs of cognitive decline become more evident as you age. The older you get, the more difficult it becomes to start exercising, which is why it is best to incorporate exercise into your routine at a young age.

Exercising is important for everyone. It might be difficult to start and keep up with an exercise routine but understand that a little goes a long way. A simple walk a few times a week will make a big difference over time. Understanding that exercising has both short-term and long-term brain health benefits should keep you inspired.