There are clear physical benefits that come with consistent exercise — but do you know the positive mental effects of incorporating fitness into your daily routine? Exercise can play a large role in improving and maintaining your brain health, which in turn affects almost every aspect of your day to day lifestyle.
What Does Brain Health Involve?
As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, brain health is your ability to perform all the mental processes of cognition, including the ability to learn and judge, use language, and recall memories. Your brain is the most important part of your body, as it essentially controls every aspect of how you move through the world. When your brain is healthy and functioning optimally, you are able to work more efficiently, process information faster, and maintain a higher overall quality of life. Declining brain health, however, can lead to Mild Cognitive Impairment, slower mental processing, and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's.
One common misconception is that brain health does not need to become a concern until later on in life. In reality, the brain begins to show signs of cognitive decline once a person enters their 20’s. It’s never too early – or too late – to start making the necessary lifestyle changes in order to keep your mind sharp. Just as your brain affects your lifestyle, your lifestyle directly affects your brain and how it functions. The goal is to keep the two in sync for the highest quality of life possible.
There are six foundational pillars of brain health that have a direct effect on your cognitive health:
✔️ Food and Nutrition
✔️ Medical Health
✔️ Sleep and Relaxation
✔️ Mental Fitness
✔️ Social Interaction
⭐ And last but not least: Physical Exercise
How Can Exercise Improve Brain Health?
In reviewing these pillars, it’s easy to connect the dots and understand how regular visits to the doctor or positive social interaction can positively impact your brain health. But when it comes to making the proper lifestyle adjustments, it’s important to understand that exercise isn’t just for your body. Read on to discover the importance of physical exercise as a pillar of strong brain health, and the supporting research and data that breaks down its many benefits.
1. Prevent Against Memory Loss
Exercise has a direct impact on your memory, both short term and long term. Consistent physical activity can increase the size of your hippocampus, which is the part of your brain designated to memory and retention. The connections between your brain’s nerve cells can be strengthened through exercise as well, which improves memory and can help protect your brain from future injury and disease. With Alzheimer's Disease becoming more and more common in recent years, incorporating exercise into your routine can be a vital preventative measure for retaining your ability to remember details.
2. Reduce Anxiety and Depression
Mental health issues can have a significant impact on your job performance, productivity, and communication skills. Luckily, fitness and exercise can help you combat symptoms of depression and anxiety. Physical activity triggers the release of various neurotransmitters that play an important role in regulating your mood and counteracting the effects of poor mental health:
• Endorphins help with stress management and reduce feelings of pain.
• Dopamine increases your general level of enthusiasm and excitement.
• Serotonin stabilizes your mood and promotes feelings of happiness and pleasure.
• Norepinephrine affects your attention, focus, and memory.
If you’ve ever heard of the “runner’s high” phenomenon caused by an extensive cardio session, this is the science behind that sensation. Feelings of euphoria, relief, and relaxation can often be triggered by a productive fitness session.
3. Boost Self Esteem
Your mindset and perception of self play a role in your overall brain health. Low self esteem affects the neural processes of your brain important for learning and valuation – over time, this can even result in increased vulnerability to mental health issues. Don't underestimate the physiological effects of incorporating exercise into your lifestyle! Regular exercise often leads to an improved body image — looking your best, feeling stronger, and embracing the sense of accomplishment that comes with achieving your fitness goals is great for your body and your mind.
4. Improve Sleep Cycle
The effects of a good workout can also lead to a better night’s sleep. Physical activity has been shown to improve the quality of sleep and increase overall sleep duration. For those who struggle with sleep disorders such as insomnia, consistent exercise can help to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep at night. The act of sleeping itself also actively heals the body. As you rest, your nervous, immune, skeletal, and muscular systems are all being restored overnight. As a result, almost all bodily functions are negatively affected by poor or inadequate sleep.
Unfortunately, sacrificing or deprioritizing a good night’s sleep has become a prevalent part of today’s work-life balance dynamic. 30% of the nation’s workforce admits to getting 6 hours of sleep or less on a regular basis. As one of the primary pillars of strong brain health, consistently getting an effective sleep is an important step towards fostering a healthy lifestyle.
5. Increased Energy and Alertness
Struggling with daytime drowsiness? Adding exercise to your daily routine can increase your energy levels and combat feelings of fatigue. Exercise improves the effectiveness of your cardiovascular system, increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. As a result, your brain has the nutrients it needs to function at the highest level possible. Recent research has shown that physical activity directly improves cognitive performance when it comes to focus and concentration. A 2016 study of older adults found that after a 24-week program consisting of moderate aerobic exercise, participants showed significant improvements in cognitive function.
Harness The Power Of Wellness Coach
Starting your journey towards a healthier fitness lifestyle can feel intimidating at first, but you don’t have to become a professional athlete overnight. Light exercise, such as quick walks or at-home yoga classes, are a great way to keep yourself active. Your personal fitness and wellness goals may change and shift over time, but the first step is to get moving.
And remember – you don’t have to develop a workout routine on your own! The Wellness Coach app has a large library of fitness classes to incorporate into your day-to-day schedule. From full-body workouts to restorative yoga exercises, Wellness Coach provides the resources you need to nurture your physical and mental wellbeing. Visit wellnesscoach.live for more information.