Exercise Tones Your Muscles — and Your Mind

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
June 22, 2017

Millions of Americans are hitting the gym to sculpt their summer beach bodies. Fortunately, this exercise will sharpen their minds, not just their physiques.

The physical benefits of exercise are always top of mind when people decide to work out. One study revealed that getting “toned and fit” was the primary reason that people chose to hit the gym.[1] Another analysis found that more Americans aged 50 to 79 cited “increasing fitness level” as a motivation for exercising than “reducing stress.”[2] Meanwhile, for millennials, “getting in shape” is the number one reason to work out.[3]

People tend to overlook the equally numerous and important mental health benefits of exercise.

Exercise boosts brainpower. One study by researchers at the University of British Columbia revealed that consistent cardio exercise improved the brain’s ability to memorize and process new information.[4] Another analysis of over three-dozen studies found that working out for 45 to 60 minutes significantly improved cognitive functions.[5]

Exercise can also pause, or even reverse, brain aging. As humans grow older, their brain tissue naturally degrades. But physical activity can revitalize this tissue. One study of older sedentary folks found that their brain volume increased after half a year of aerobic training.[6]

Working out also combats depression and anxiety. When people exercise, the body produces mood-boosting hormones like serotonin and dopamine, relieving stress and reducing the risk of depression.[7] Adding just an hour of exercise to one’s schedule every week can cut the risk of depression in half.[8]

Even easy workouts provide a mental pick-up. University of Connecticut researchers found that just a light stroll can be enough to put the mind at ease.[9]

Many people might not realize it, but as they tone their muscles this summer, they’re also toning their minds.

St George’s University has partnered with communities in Grenada as part of a Sports for Health program to promote physical exercise. The program, which has been in existence since 2011, involves different levels of intensity and different types of exercise in an effort to mitigate the effects of chronic diseases, promote social well-being among participants and their peers and foster healthy mental stimulation and recreation.

 

[1] https://internationaljournalofwellbeing.org/index.php/ijow/article/viewFile/274/403

[2] https://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/health/exercise.pdf

[3] https://w2.lesmills.com/files/GlobalCentral/GRIT/ResearchDocs/Nielsen%20research%202013%20exec%20summary.pdf

[4] http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

[5] http://www.neurologyadvisor.com/general-neurology/exercise-improves-cognition-in-older-adults/article/652737/

[6] http://www.rd.com/health/fitness/6-ways-exercise-makes-your-brain-better/

[7] http://www.rd.com/health/fitness/6-ways-exercise-makes-your-brain-better/

[8] http://jamesclear.com/exercise-and-depression

[9] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4600862/Just-one-exercise-session-boost-moods.html

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