Affects of Exercise on the Brain

1. Exercise Wards Off Anxiety and Depression
Perhaps because exercise stimulates the nervous system and releases a variety of chemicals in the brain, it has been proven to help with anxiety and depression. Says one review of the literature published in “Frontiers in Psychiatry,” “the evidence suggests that exercise can improve depressive symptoms and this is observed even in those suffering from major depressive disorder.”

2. Exercise Increases Blood Flow to the Brain
Studies that have been done on both primates and people have shown that exercise increases blood flow to the brain, even in those who are older and have been sedentary. You’re getting more oxygen to your brain, and you’re getting more nutrients. More blood flow to the brain means that cells have more fuel to operate.

3. Exercise Protects Your Brain Cells
Exercise turns on the expression of specific genes, and many of the genes it expresses are neuroprotective: they cause the production and the secretion of proteins that we call neurotrophic factors, meaning they cause brain cells to make substances that protect them from damage. This is critical, because some chemicals in the environment (such as pesticides) can enter the brain and be toxic or destructive to brain cells. If you’re producing neurotrophic factors, it has a protective effect.

4. Exercise Helps You Produce New Brain Cells
Not only does exercise increase the production of new neurons in the hippocampus, it also increases the production of glial cells, which are the brain’s support network: These cells have protective effects and support the function of neurons, and they are produced throughout the brain. In tests done specifically on older individuals, it seems to be the glial cell production that is affected most strongly with exercise.

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