Movement Equals Brain Power: The biochemistry effects of exercise are better than you think

We all know that physical exercise of any kind is primary in creating and keeping a healthy body. But did you know that exercise actually makes you smarter, improves your memory and wildly increases your sense of self esteem?

A 2007 Newsweek article reported about the findings that an “active body had on a strong, active mind.” The article quoted Michael Craig Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, as saying that exercise induces alterations in your brain. That it wasn’t just the smaller waistline that boosted your self confidence, eased your stress and helped you sleep better, it was actual changes occurring in your brain.

A study done at the University of Muenster in Germany concluded that exercisers who ran two three-minute sprints taking a two minute break in between them, could learn new words 20 percent faster than those who hadn’t done the exercise. Exercise increases blood and oxygen flow to the body –that includes the brain.

Christiane Northrup, M.D. writes in her book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, “studies have shown that repetitive movement increases alpha waves in the brain and that the alpha state is associated with enhanced intuition. Exercising hard is the perfect balance for the mental activity so often required in modern life.”

When we move our bodies, we release hormones that promote our well being and beckon us to exercise again. You’ve heard of the runner’s high? That state of euphoria is created by endorphins, a hormone released by the pituitary gland.

Endorphins are responsible for more than just giving you a good feeling. They can calm stress and agitation, decrease the appetite and impede pain. This feel good hormone tends to stay in the blood stream longer as you stay consistent with your exercise program. In other words, happy gets happier. This is one of the reasons why exercise is one of the most recommended prescriptions in treating depression. It may really be the best medicine.

Numerous studies also show that self esteem increases with exercise. Researchers aren’t sure if it’s because of the biochemical effects or if it comes from the self confidence that is formed when we learn a new skill, discover our inner athlete or engage in a new activity. Exercise has a powerful effect on our self efficacy – the belief that we can master a new challenge. It allows us to manage our emotions and feelings. We feel in charge of ourselves.

In an article titled, The Reciprocal Influence of Self Esteem and Exercise, by Monica Frank and Susan Gustafson, it’s reported that the implementation of a long term exercise program has the effect of raising one’s self esteem. The article goes on to report that those that already see themselves as confident are much more likely to begin and continue with an exercise plan.

There is one caveat though to the theory of exercise promoting self esteem –particularly in women. Women who primarily exercise in order to get thinner, achieve a social beauty standard or –think of themselves as more of an object of beauty, rather than a person or spirit of beauty, don’t get the same psychological benefits. Exercise has been found to be much more productive physically and emotionally when we do it for health, to feel good, to learn a new skill. Ivanka Prichard, co-author of a Flinders University study that surveyed 571 women who worked out at health clubs, recommended doing an activity that focuses on “internal body awareness, mental health and calmness” –as reasons to do exercise. Try yoga or weight lifting. Keep the focus on health not on appearance.

Still need more convincing that exercise goes beyond thinner thighs and toned shoulders? Here are more benefits to get you on a fitness plan or help you to stay the course of the one you’re on.

• Exercise can slow the aging process.

• Exercise strengthens your bones, muscles and your heart.

• Exercise helps to regulate your blood sugar and metabolism.

• Exercise improves sleep, decreases stress and nervous energy.

• Exercise offers you a wider range of flexibility, more endurance, more energy, more power.

• Exercise offers you new opportunities to connect socially.

• Exercise fosters a sense of self acceptance and appreciation of and for your body and how it carries you through life.

• Exercise has been shown to lower cancer rates and boost your immune system.

What are you waiting for?

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