How physical activity benefits brain function
Written by: Christine Winter
A lot has been said about the benefits of exercise for physical health. However, exercise has also many benefits for the brain and for the mind. It can do a lot to improve psychological health and overall well-being. Let's take a look at how exercise can help us stay mentally fit and happy.
First, let's take a look at how can exercise help the brain. Exercise can improve brain functions directly, having a positive effect on memory, learning, thinking and concentration. Exercise can stimulate the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain and the abundance of new brain cells, thus directly improving cognitive processes by improving the brain's health.
However, exercise also improves other processes that can help the individual focus and learn better. People who exercise sleep better, so they are able to focus better during the day. Exercise can also help with mood and has been found to alleviate symptoms of depression. Individuals with a low mood may not feel up to a task or have difficulties concentrating. Depression or even sadness often affects the ability to reason, as well as motivation. Exercise can alleviate sadness and help the person feel more motivated and focused due to its effects on the affective state.
Another variable linked to exercise and focus is stress. Too much stress and anxiety can prevent the person from concentrating, as their thoughts are not focused on the task at hand and their body's reactions to the stress can also be highly distracting. Exercise can reduce stress levels in general and be used as a way to work with anxiety, thus helping people concentrate better and be more focused in their daily life.
Going by these aspects, we can see that exercise improves bran functioning directly, but can also have a positive influence of our learning and our concentration. However, even here we can see that exercise can contribute also to our mental health.
Exercise and physical activity can improve mood and alleviate the symptoms of depression, although it can not replace a therapeutic or pharmacological treatment. Exercise helps the brain release endorphines, which are neurochemicals that can relief physical and emotional pain and give the mood a boost. In general, exercise has been linked to a better affective state. Endorphines are a direct result of exercise and have a tangible effect on the person's mood.
As it can improve sleep and reduce stress, exercise is also good for our psychological health due to these effects. A healthy sleep and low stress levels are consistently associated to a good mood and high levels of psychological well-being.
We can also say that exercise, especially a consistent exercise regime, can also do a lot to boost a person's confidence. Exercise can improve self-esteem due to several effects. First of all, exercising daily or on chosen days can be seen as achieving small goals on the path to a larger goal. If the person sees how they can achieve what they set out to do, it encourages them to try more things and to have more confidence in themselves.
Another way in which exercise can boost confidence is because it can be associated with specific results. The person feels better, looks better and can do things that very unaccesible to them before. Even if the changes are small, seeing the results can help the person feel better about themselves. For instance, a person who had a hard time working up the stairs might feel proud that they can walk up with no problem. They have improved and they have reasons to feel proud of it.
In short, exercise has positive effects, both direct and indirect, on our brain, mental capacity and psychological well-being. Considering that these three variables are closely tied together, we can feel the positive effects of exercise in many areas of our lives.