I was on my way to the gym at the Nordic Centre on Saturday. It is always busy there on the weekends, World Cup races, club events, mountain biking, running, always something and a lot of serious athletes.
This weekend there was a trail run and I was meeting someone to pick up a package and then going to the gym. It was cold, about 2 degrees, raining, windy and getting worse by the minute.
My intention was to get to the gym right away. But something happened along the way.
When I started watching the runners cross the finish line I couldn’t leave. It was such a great atmosphere. Everyone was happy. Even though it was cold and wet. Everyone looked like they were having fun.
Maybe they were.
- Improved executive function; attentional control, memory, planning, problem-solving.
- Decreased stress.
- Improved mood.
With one single session of exercise. That is a pretty good return on your exercise investment. Your brain loves exercise.
But, there are more brain benefits with exercise.
When you exercise more of your brain is activated, you are more alert. Professor Richard Maddock, professor of psychiatry at University of California, Davis says;
You can see better after exercise. Your visual cortex is more sensitive to incoming information allowing you to zero in on important information in the environment. (This may explain why every stump looks like a bear when I am out for a run).
As soon as you start exercising your brain starts using more glucose. At rest, your brain takes about 20% of your calories, and this increases with exercise. Professor Maddock discovered that the brain was using all this fuel during exercise to build more neurotransmitters, the messengers of the nervous system. Exercise was restocking the brain with essential messengers needed to operate at its peak. This may also explain why exercise alleviates depression, the increase in neurotransmitters happens in an area that is low in depressed people.
Exercise makes your brain younger. When you exercise your brain produces more growth factors, active people have younger looking brains. Exercise increases the number of neurons in your hippocampus, the area of your brain responsible for memory. Research has shown that older people that are regular exercisers have more gray matter in areas associated with intelligence and executive function. Fit adults have healthier white-matter, the connection of various regions of gray matter. Including in the basal ganglia, which is responsible for balance and coordination.
All those people running on Saturday probably weren’t thinking about how great their brains were doing, they were just out having fun and that’s pretty important too.
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