We’ve all heard that exercise is good for us, but research shows that moving your body can physically change your brain, from increasing brain plasticity to encouraging the formation of new neural pathways.
The best part? Some studies suggest that we can tap into these benefits with as little as five minutes per day. Here are some of the surprising benefits that stem from regularly moving your body.
We write all the time about the link between nasal breathing and cognitive function, and similar studies show a link between exercise and increased cognitive function. Regular exercise increases the growth of new blood vessels in the brain in the regions where neurogenesis (the growth of new neural pathways) occurs. This helps boost memory formation and recall, and lowers risk factors associated with dementia.
EASIER PATHS TO HAPPINESS
While we’ve all heard of Runner’s High, the feel-good release of endorphins linked to exercise, something we don’t often hear is that this state of post-workout joy can cause permanent shifts in our brain, in turn making us more prone to experiencing states of joy in general. This is because exercise leads to higher levels of dopamine in the brain, and more available dopamine receptors. Studies suggest that exercise can even help fix a brain that’s been harmed by substance abuse—a 2015 trial published in Neuropsychopharmacology found that adults in treatment for methamphetamine abuse showed an increase in dopamine receptor availability after 8 weeks of jogging, walking, and strength training.
Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal writes that moving alongside others—like in an exercise class, or a jog with a friend—builds trust and fosters a sense of belonging. Moving in synchronicity with others triggers a release of endorphins, just like exercise does, so doing both in tandem can double your sense of camaraderie and happiness. McGonigal writes that sharing an endorphin rush through synchronized exercise is a “powerful neurobiological mechanism for forming friendships, even with people we don’t know.”
We know that nose breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, but exercise can calm your mind further by increasing neural connections in the area of the brain that ease anxiety. When we feel centered and focused, we’re less likely to feel fear, and more likely to feel confident and take risks. Research suggests that lactate, which your body naturally produces during exercise, can also change your brain chemistry in a way that helps prevent anxiety and depression.