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How Exercise Positively Affects Your Brain

Have you ever taken a nice long walk or jog or done some form of cardio and experienced a “feel-good” type of sensation right afterwards? If so, then you may have experienced what’s often been termed as the “runner’s high.” It’s a temporary euphoric feeling where you may experience a general sense of well-being.

What does this have to do with the brain? A lot actually. That euphoric feeling is an increase in the levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. According to New York University Neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki, the effects are immediate and can then be long-lasting depending on you. Here’s why.

» A single workout can improve your ability to shift and focus attention for up to two hours because of the effects of those neurotransmitters on the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus parts of your brain.

» To get long-lasting effects, you’ve got to change your exercise habits to increase your cardiorespiratory function. This is when your brain starts to physically change. The hippocampus begins to produce brand new brain cells, which then increases its volume while at the same time improving long-term memory.

» The more you work out, the bigger and stronger the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex become, the two areas of the brain most susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases.

In other words, exercise has protective effects on your brain. Dr. Suzuki tells us to think of the brain like a muscle. The more you’re working out, the bigger and stronger it becomes. Suzuki is quick to point out that exercise doesn’t cure dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but by creating a stronger and bigger prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, it can take longer for these diseases to actually have an effect. She says to think of exercise as a “supercharged 401(k) for your brain.”

So consider adding a 30 minute cardio exercise routine, three to four times a week at least, to your schedule. No need to join a gym if you can’t afford to. Walk some stairs, walk your neighborhood, do some yoga. Whatever gets your body warmed up and works for your activity level. We think it, and you, are totally worth it!

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