Neuroscientist reveals the impact of exercise on the brain

We’ve always been told that exercise is good for us. That it gives us more energy, makes us more healthy, and even helps us look our best.

But in truth, we have no idea just how much exercise can change our lives.

Sure, we get so much information about the physical effects of exercising our bodies, but what we don’t know is how exactly it can affect our brain.

Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki gives a very unique insight as to how exercise can significantly increase our brain’s capacity, right down to a neuro-cellular level.

With a titillating mix of science, relatability, and a little humor, Dr. Suzuki gives an inspiring TED talk that will undoubtedly send you running to the gym right after.

The brain-changing benefits of exercise | Wendy Suzuki

The Science Behind Exercise

Like many others, Dr. Suzuki was trapped inside a self-inflicted jail of a workaholic. Although she was successful in her field, pioneering research about brain memory, she was miserable inside. She had no social life and even gained more than a couple of pounds.

It took a life-changing river rafting trip to wake her up from this stupor. She started exercising. She tried everything and immediately became addicted.

Dr. Suzuki immediately noticed a change in her mood, focus, and energy. But as a neuroscientist, she naturally began to question just how and why exactly this is happening. And after a few sessions in her lab, she made amazing discoveries.

Particularly, she found that “exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain today.”

Here are the three reasons why.

1. It has immediate effects on your brain.

“A single workout that you do will immediately increase levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. That is going to increase your mood right after that workout, exactly what I was feeling. My lab showed that a single workout can improve your ability to shift and focus attention, and that focus improvement will last for at least two hours.

And finally, studies have shown that a single workout will improve your reaction times which basically means that you are going to be faster at catching that cup of Starbucks that falls off the counter, which is very, very important.”

Researchers at Western University in London, Canada back this up when they compared the reaction times of people who just exercised and those who did not, to a cognitively demanding eye movement task. And the difference they found was astonishing.

Those who exercised were instantly more accurate. Their response times were also up by 50 milliseconds. This shows a 14% in cognitive performance.

2. It improves attention-function.

“The most common finding in neuroscience studies, looking at effects of long-term exercise, is improved attention function dependent on your prefrontal cortex. You not only get better focus and attention, but the volume of the hippocampus increases as well. And finally, you not only get immediate effects of mood with exercise but those last for a long time. So you get long-lasting increases in those good mood neurotransmitters.”

Studies have shown that aerobic exercise, particularly, can enhance your ability to maintain and shift attention. Our attention is directly manipulated by our brain’s prefrontal cortex. Exercise helps improve the prefrontal cortex’ performance. In fact, even just one hour of aerobic exercise can spike significant improvement in your attention.

3. It protects your brain.

There are two areas in your brain that are particularly more susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases – the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. These two parts are also the ones more prone to declining as you age.

The most wonderful thing about exercise is that it helps protect these parts of your brain, lessening the chances of diseases like Alzheimer’s or even dementia.

“So with increased exercise over your lifetime, you’re not going to cure dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but what you’re going to do is you’re going to create the strongest, biggest hippocampus and prefrontal cortex so it takes longer for these diseases to actually have an effect. You can think of exercise, therefore, as a supercharged 401K for your brain, OK? And it’s even better, because it’s free.”

How much exercise do you need to get these benefits?

Do you have to be a triathlete to get the amazing and life-changing benefits to exercise? Good news is, no.

But you do need a minimum amount of exercise to do so. Luckily, Dr. Suzuki has the answer for you.

“The rule of thumb is you want to get three to four times a week exercise minimum 30 minutes an exercise session, and you want to get aerobic exercise in. That is, get your heart rate up.

And the good news is, you don’t have to go to the gym to get a very expensive gym membership. Add an extra walk around the block in your power walk. You see stairs — take stairs. And power-vacuuming can be as good as the aerobics class that you were going to take at the gym.”

The Takeaway

The truth is, you don’t have to be a gym rat or an athlete to get these brain-changing benefits. All you need to do is get up and exercise.

And the wonderful thing about it is, there are plenty of types of exercises that can suit you perfectly. All of them can be a fun way to make you feel and good look – and even leave you with better brain function.

Dr. Suzuki proves just how much exercise can change the trajectory of your life. All for the better.

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Written by Genefe Navilon

Genefe Navilon is a writer, poet, and blogger. She graduated with a degree in Mass Communications at the University of San Jose Recoletos. Her poetry blog, Letters To The Sea, currently has 18,000 followers. Her work has been published in different websites and poetry book anthologies. She divides her time between traveling, writing, and working on her debut poetry book.

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