Another Compelling Reason to Hit the Gym

Image: Curtis Mac Newton Exercise is very, very important to human health.

Tell you something you don't know, right?

So let's assume you already get it: you'll feel more energetic, sleep better, look better, and digest your food more effectively if you exercise.

If you need another reason to hop on the treadmill (or head to a hiking trail, or take a yoga class, etc.), consider your brain.

A study done at the University of Vancouver (UBC) showed that regular aerobic exercise (as opposed to strength training, etc.) increased the size of the hippocampus - the part of the brain related to verbal memory, emotional response and learning.


The Benefits of Exercise on your Grey Matter

According to the Harvard Health Publications, there are three distinct benefits exercise has on the brain:


1. Reduced Insulin Resistance

The brain's primary nourishment is glucose, and the body requires insulin to drive glucose into the brain cells for energy. With conditions like diabetes, high blood sugars in the blood stream end up triggering the insulin response too often, leading to insulin resistance. When the body is unable to receive the insulin message the brain cells are not able to receive the proper nourishment of glucose for function and energy.

Regular aerobic exercise  has been shown to reduce this resistance, allowing for the glucose to be driven into the brain as fuel. And with more fuel, your memory and cognitive abilities increase!


2. Reduced Inflammation

I detailed the impact of inflammation on the brain in a recent blog post, and cannot stress enough how hard inflammation is on the body - and the mind. Exercise is one excellent way to reduce the harmful effects of inflammation, and help your brain remain the powerful muscle it is.


3.  The Release of Growth Factors

Growth factors are chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells. Regular aerobic exercise increases the release of these chemicals into our system, improving brain function by supporting new growth.

What Next? Incorporating Aerobic Exercise into your Life

If you're not engaging in regular exercise that gets your heart pumping, it can be overwhelming and even a bit intimidating to get started. Start slow - two to three times a week, try to increase your heart rate with movement for about 20-30 minutes. This can include:

  • run-walking on a treadmill (try intervals of 4 minutes running, 2 minutes walking to start)
  • biking (on a road or stationary bike)
  • taking a brisk walk (moving fast enough to increase heart rate and sweat a little)
  • hiking uphill
  • swimming laps
  • dancing!
  • running after your children/grandchildren at the park

If you know you lack the discipline to do it on your own, try:

  • signing up for a class
  • making a regular, weekly date with a friend
  • having an active "date night" with your partner
  • joining an in-person community that walks, runs, hikes or bikes together for fun
  • joining an online community that tracks your workouts via your phone

And don't forget to congratulate yourself!

Exercise is truly miraculous - after just one time out you're likely to feel better, and from there the benefits will start to cascade.