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Practicing Sports What are its neurological benefits?

You may have a rough idea of how exercise affects your health, weight and energy levels. But do you know its impact on the brain?

The neurological benefits are clear and significant.

In this article, we’ll take a 360-degree view of the context, facts, research and benefits that connect the brain, health and physical activity.

This discussion will be supplemented with specific detailed tips and exercises, as well as details on their effects on health.

We will also elaborate on how to make exercise more meaningful and poetic to our bodies.

Los efectos del deporte sobre el cerebro son múltiples y beneficiosos.

Industrialization brought revolutionary technological innovations such as trains, cars and airplanes, which made our lives easier.

Following the Industrial Revolution, technology also underwent a great change in the United Kingdom and much of Western Europe. According to Watson, Weir, and Friend (2005), technology

Technology sped up production lines and the production of goods and decreased the number of active jobs for a rising middle class. With the automation of industry, a more sedentary lifestyle emerged, along with a rapid increase in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

The rise of blue- and white-collar factory jobs also replaced small-scale farming and traditional labor-intensive jobs. Meanwhile, populations moved by the thousands to urbanized centers, to smaller residences closer to their work.

Markets and supermarkets also made food accessible to people who could no longer afford to raise livestock and produce their own food.

The way people spent their leisure time also changed as television became America’s favorite pastime (Krantz-Kent, 2018), with people consuming around 4 and 5 hours of screen time per day (Shaw, 2004).

All of this meant that in today’s developed regions, the standard of living increased dramatically. Without physical effort, one could survive and even earn money, have fun and eat well.

With many people’s incomes, everything can be done from the couch, or with little physical effort. This includes paying bills, buying clothes and groceries, enjoying vacation days and catching up with friends.

With the rise of self-employment and global nomadism, people can remain inactive and even earn a decent salary and the opportunity to travel.

It is important to recognize that not everyone has the opportunity to do non-physical work in a safe home environment. Physical inactivity is not a reality faced by many workers around the world. In any case, we are moving toward a city-dwelling society that gets little exercise.

According to the World Health Organization (2010), more than 50% of the world’s population now lives in an urban area.

Given the current exponential population growth worldwide, it is predicted that by 2050, about 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. What does this mean for global health? Widespread physical inactivity is cause for concern.

Jonathan Shaw (2004) writes that 75% of the U.S. population does not even meet the minimum government recommendation for exercise, i.e., 30 minutes of walking daily.

Even this statistic differs radically from the habits of our hunter-gatherer ancestors 10,000 years ago, who walked at least 10-20 kilometers each day (Wrangham in Shaw, 2004).

This ingrained mentality can be traced back to Western traditions of athleticism.

Ancient Greece glorified the body with athletic rituals and competitions, to the point that the Olympic Games, held in honor of Zeus, could be held (Ratey, 2015).

Before that, there were no marathons or sport-oriented societies. “Survival of the fittest” prevailed as the foundation of human evolution (Ratey, 2015).

In other words, you were either fit or you died. Western cultures have vacillated between extremes, to move from “fitness for survival” to “fitness for entertainment” to “fitness as privilege.”

So how can we begin to think about more realistic and accessible ways to incorporate physical exertion into our lives?

We are not genetically programmed to live in a state of idleness and lethargy. And if we do, our brains pay a heavy price, both in the short and long term.

You may already know that exercise is good for you, but do you know how it affects the brain?

How to increase dopamine naturally

Cómo afecta la actividad física a nivel neurológico.

People exercise for different reasons, but many people stay fit to prevent serious health conditions. These conditions include heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and stroke (Godman, 2014).

Other people exercise primarily to lose weight. Only a few people exercise with the intention of improving their brain function.

do you think about neurology when you go to the gym? You might after reading this.

Exercise improves cognitive functioning, mental health and memory; it also hinders the development of certain neurological conditions.

In an article entitled Exercise is Brain Food (2008), Ploughman presents the three dominant neuroscientific theories that explain how physical activity positively influences cognition.

  • While exercising, oxygen saturation and angiogenesis (blood vessel growth) occur in areas of the brain associated with rational thinking and social, physical and intellectual performance.
  • Exercise decreases stress hormones and increases the number of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which are known to accelerate information processing.
  • Exercise upregulates neurotrophins (brain-derived neurotrophic factor, insulin-like growth factor and basic fibroblast growth factor). These promote the survival and differentiation of neurons in the developing brain, dendritic branching and synaptic machinery in the adult brain (ibid).

Now it is getting technical. We have several videos that help explain these three theories on how exercise influences brain chemistry.

Arguably, the reason the three theorems differ is that they describe different phenomena through a different lens occurring simultaneously in the brain during exercise.

Regardless of their respective positions, the outcome described at the neurological level is positive.

Whatever associated brain function you can think of, exercise can improve, optimize specific functions, or prevent undesirable health conditions.

what are these specific benefits?

We have collected the starting points for each section that we will elaborate on as the article develops, in relation to the neurological benefits derived from physical activity.

These are

  • Decrease in stress
  • Decreased social anxiety
  • Improvement of emotion processing
  • Prevention of neurological conditions
  • Euphoria (short term)
  • Increase in energy, concentration and attention
  • Hindering the aging process
  • Improved memory
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Decreased “brain fog”
  • All of these benefits are related to neurogenesis (the generation and creation of new neurons) and neuroplasticity (synaptic plasticity, or alterations in the strength of existing synapses).

Many of these benefits stem from the ability to reduce insulin resistance and inflammation (Godman, 2014).

We have many myths surrounding the functioning of our brain, as well as much pending research. Perhaps we should explore some of the facts, before returning to how exercise benefits the brain.

The following list debunks common misconceptions about the brain and the role of exercise. As one of the body’s least known organs, this one-pound mystery has kept scientists busy.

Let’s start with some facts.

Brain degeneration is a myth

For a long time, scientists thought that cognitive skills such as wit and memory – also known as fluid intelligence – peaked around the age of 20 and then slowly declined.

Recent research by MIT neuroscientists (Trafton, 2015) has found that it’s more complicated than that.

It’s not that our cognitive processes get better or worse over time, it’s that they alter. That is, that at different ages we are better suited to certain things than others.

It has been shown that:

  • Information processing peaks at around 18 and 19 years of age
  • Short-term memory peaks around age 25 and declines around age 35
  • Visual short-term memory peaks at age 30.
  • The ability to read another person’s emotions peaks between the ages of 40 and 50.
  • Vocabulary peaks in the late 60s or early 70s

2: Exercise increases brain size

Exercising increases the areas of the brain associated with memory, task management, coordination, planning and inhibition (the anterior cingulate cortex and supplementary motor area).

This enlargement means that the developed parts of the brain function more quickly and efficiently. When exercising, the flow of oxygen to these parts of the brain is very helpful.

In a “new era of obesity” (Monbiot, 2018), there are also more studies covering the impact of exercise on the brain, as well as on overall health (Ravey, 2015). The stigma of obesity is a complicated topic, but relevant to this exploration of exercise and access to healthy lifestyles.

For now, suffice it to say that exercise increases brain size and reduces obesity rates.

3: Anxiety damages the brain

Anxiety is harmful to the brain, but how? It has been shown that people who suffer from anxiety are 48% more likely to develop dementia.

This is due to cortisol, the stress hormone, which damages parts of the brain related to memory and complex thinking.

Working to minimize your stress, or viewing some stress as a positive, can benefit your brain health. An article I wrote on eustress explains in more detail how your beliefs about stress influence whether stress is harmful or beneficial.

If you suffer from a lot of stress or anxiety from the very idea of stress, there is still hope for you. Exercise may need a role change in your life, which we will explore later in this article.

4- Working for too long is counterproductive

Every 1.5 to 2 hours, the brain goes through stages of performance and productivity. In the first stage, cognition can function at a remarkable rate, thanks to the release of sodium and potassium ions that regenerate the brain’s electrical signals.

If a person continues to work on the same task, he or she is likely to experience decreased concentration and low productivity. This is because, to keep working at the same pace, the brain needs new ions to “refuel,” similar to how a long-distance athlete needs fuel between workouts.

Taking a short twenty-minute break every 1-2 hours, whether it’s a walk, exercise or socializing, can stimulate the brain and return it to the first stage of optimal productivity.

I tried applying this while writing this article, and it worked wonders. I always came back to my desk inspired by new ideas.

Some people want workplaces to be more fit-for-purpose places where all employees have alternatives to sitting all day” (Carroll, 2018).

Imagine a work culture where organizations encouraged short, frequent, and active breaks.

5: The shape of your brain measures your personality type

Recent research conducted by Mitchell and Kumari (2016) argues that the shape of a person’s brain can give indicators about their personality predispositions and degree of risk for certain mental illnesses.

The “stretching and folding” triggered by alterations in cortisol levels can indicate whether a person is more prone to neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

For example, increased thickness, reduced surface area, and lack of folding in the cortexes have been associated with higher levels of neuroticism.

If aggravated, these levels can lead to more severe neuropsychiatric conditions.

On the other hand, prefrontal cortical thinness, increased surface area and increased folding are predictors of higher levels of openness.

The health of our brain should be one of our top priorities if we want to have a healthy and happy life. What better way to show your brain some love than to feed it oxygen through exercise.

Let’s see what the research and science shows.

Ismael Abogado

Ismael Abogado

Psychologist and constant learner of the mind and soul.

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