Exercise, Stress, and the Brain

Exercise is interesting in terms of effects on the brain because it works in about 4 or 5 different ways. One of the most obvious ways is blood flow. If you get your heart working, your brain is going to be filled with oxygen rich blood and nutrients, so that’s the main way that it helps. The other way that’s sort of interesting, is it’s been thought that exercise produces new neurons.

Exercise Induces Production of Growth Factors

So exercise induces the production of growth factors. One is called BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor,  and it actually stimulates the production of new brain cells. 20 years ago we were told you can’t get any new brain cells, so when you’re born, that’s your lot and you’re not going to make any more. But more recently we’ve found that exercise is a really good way of stimulating brain cell production and some of these are functional.  So just this notion, that something that you can do can generate new brain cells, is a really great thing to think about.

How Exercise Helps The Brain

 

You might be wondering why exercise helps the brain. Well, what one theory is, is that it just reduces stress. So maybe it’s not that blood is coming to the brain, but maybe you are less stressed. This theory was something that imaging allowed us to test.  So scans and imaging were done on people with high cortisol levels.  High cortisol levels occur if you’re stressed, if you’re angry about something, or even if you’re stuck in traffic!  One of the things found is that the people with high cortisol levels, lost brain tissue faster and that is a serious problem! So if we now know that high cortisol levels enables the body to lose brain tissue faster, we can now look at ways of reducing your cortisol.

Ways To Reduce Cortisol Levels

We can reduce our cortisol levels and decrease stress by exercising, walking, taking breaks.  You can eat a good diet, you can exercise, you can reduce stress, you can make sure you’re well educated on health topics so these things just build up a sort of mental bank account for the future. Even though it seems like work is hard, you’re building a store of brain connections that you’ll need the for the rest of your life. So take care of your brain!  If you need help with coming up with a plan to reduce stress and to lead a healthier lifestyle, contact Discover Health and Wellness Ken Caryl to schedule a consultation.  We are happy to help you out!