5 ways exercise boosts your brainpower
Working out provides more than just physical benefits. Just ask Dean Hebert, an applied sports psychology coach and former nurse who teaches psychology and human resource courses at the University of Phoenix Main Campus.
“I work with athletes of all disciplines — mixed martial arts fighters, runners, cyclists and more — on developing mental focus,” Hebert says. “I’ve seen firsthand how much exercise benefits the brain.” Here are five ways he says exercise can help sharpen your mind:
Keener focus and recall
“When you do any kind of exercise, it increases blood flow throughout the body, including the brain,” Hebert explains. It also releases brain chemicals, such as endorphins, that improve your ability to concentrate. Endorphins are natural stimulants and work in much the same way as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs do, Hebert says.
“I once coached a runner who had to take time off due to an injury, and he got diagnosed with ADHD during his rest period,” he adds, explaining that without the brain chemicals the athlete had gained from his daily running program, he lost mental focus. Hebert’s view is shared by authorities on ADHD, who say that exercise improves concentration, according to ADDitude magazine.
“When you have more energy and mental sharpness, you’re naturally going to get more done,” Hebert says, citing a 2011 Swedish study, which found that regular exercise at work increases work productivity. Not only that, but regular exercise helps reduce work-related stress and improves relationships among co-workers, according to research conducted by the University of Bristol in the UK.
Two of the many brain chemicals triggered by frequent exercise are serotonin and dopamine, which help regulate your disposition, Hebert says.
“Anxiety and depression are caused in part by deficiencies in these brain chemicals,” he explains, adding that “exercise can help raise levels of both [chemicals],” which combat these mental health conditions.
Lower rates of illness
Thanks to a combination of improved cardiovascular function and increased neurotransmitter levels, exercise boosts your energy and immune system, Hebert says. “Exercise also helps you sleep better, and more rest equals less illness."
Improved thought processes
Some people’s personal learning style is movement-based, also called kinesthetic learning. “Movement facilitates brain processing and information retention [for kinesthetic learners],” he says. A self-described kinesthetic learner, Hebert says he frequently studies while doing moderate exercise, such as walking.
Exercise also allows you to constantly improve both physically and psychologically, according to Hebert. “The more you exercise, the better at it you get,” he explains. “That ‘yes, I’m capable’ ... mentality makes us more capable of succeeding no matter what we do.”