In today’s society mental health is becoming a less taboo topic and our understanding of what really constitutes good mental health is progressing rapidly. It is pretty well known that exercising is good for the mind but did you know that exercise has a greater effect on your brain than on any other part of your body?
Before I started coaching I initially got into CrossFit for what I would consider very common reasons: to feel good, look good and have a more physically capable body. Ultimately I wanted to be in ‘better shape’. But what is better shape? For the most part we think of it as being stronger, faster, leaner etc – all physical adaptions of our body. For this weeks blog I wanted to look at the relationship between our minds and exercise. Can we improve the ‘shape’ of our mind
The short answer is yes. For all the physiological benefits of exercise there are also many psychological ones – the effects exercising can have on the stuff between our ears is amazing:
Commonly, exercise help improves a persons stress level through both physical and psychological means. As we exercise, it increases the release of ‘norepinephrine’ in our brain. This is a chemical that helps moderate the brains response to stress. This means that exercise can help us feel less stressed and physically reduce the impact being stressed can have on our body. Regular exposure to increased levels of norepinephrine can also boost the body’s ability to cope with stress.
During exercise the brain realises ‘endorphins, the chemical that allows for us to have a feeling of happiness and euphoria. There have been studies that have shown that exercise can help people alleviate the symptoms of depression. Studies have found that regular exercise can be as effective as anti-depressants.
Probably one of the most popular reasons why we exercise. Training helps boost our self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Regardless of age, weight, size or gender exercise can quickly help elevates a person perception of his or she’s attractiveness that is called ‘self-worth’. (Although there isn’t a scientific measure of ‘self-worth’ it is clearly an adaption that happens in the mind as opposed to the body).
As we get older, our memory can start to detoriate, this is a natural occurrence. But exercise can help us hold onto our memory a little longer. The ‘Hippocampus’, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning shrinks as we get older, making it harder to store memory and retain information long term. Regular exercise prompts the brain to create more cells in the hippocampus which allows us to continue to retain information and grasp new concepts just like when we were younger.
Cardiovascular exercise has been shown to help in the creation of new brain cells through the process of neurogenesis. This can help improve our brains performing power. Tough workouts, just like a CrossFit class, have also been proven to help increase the concentration of a brain-derived protein known as ‘BDNF’. Studies have shown higher levels of BDNF helps with decision making, higher thinking and learning.
We all know what exercise can do for our body but most of us never appreciate what it can do for our minds too. Remember health and fitness is more than just abs and running, it’s our ability to live life to our best ability, in every sense.