Brain Boosting Benefits of Cardio Exercise
We all know that logging miles on the treadmill can help with weight loss, but adding more cardio to your life will also boost your productivity, rev your energy, and turn you into an unstoppable success machine. Even one 30-minute cardio session pumps extra blood to your brain, delivering the oxygen and nutrients it needs to perform at max efficiency. Cardio also floods the brain with chemicals that enhance functions such as memory, problem solving, and decision making. And new research has found that this kind of exercise may even result in long-lasting structural changes to the brain itself. The mental mojo you get from cardio isn’t limited to making you smarter. It also has the power to lower your stress levels and shake you out of a funk. Anyone who has ever tackled a Stairmaster has a pretty good idea of what happens to your body when you break a sweat. But here’s what’s going on in your head at the same time: All that extra blood bathes your brain cells in oxygen and glucose, which they need to function. The more they get, the better they perform.
Exercise has another vital role: It signals the release of several key hormones, including serotonin, the famed mood booster; dopamine, which affects learning and attention; and norepinephrine, which influences attention, perception, motivation, and arousal. This exercise-induced chemical cocktail has a powerful impact. By elevating neurotransmitters in the brain, it helps us focus, feel better, and release tension. Experienced regularly, all that rushing of blood and hormones primes your brain to grow. In one study, researchers scanned the brains of people who exercised for one hour per day, three days a week, for duration of six months. They discovered an increase in the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory and learning. Working out literally bulked up the study participants’ brains, allowing them to perform better at tasks that require concentration and recall—two talents that come in handy if, say, you do your own taxes or tend to forget passwords. People who exercised during their workday were 23 percent more productive on those days than they were when they didn’t exercise, says a recent study from the International Journal of Workplace Health Management. And the majority of the study participants (72 percent) did aerobic workouts. Will any old way of raising your heartbeat also raise your success meter? Moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise—such as pedaling a bike, walking briskly, or anything where you’re breaking a sweat, but can still carry on a conversation—shows promise in lab studies.