A recent study from the Brigham Young University (BYU) has found that regular exercise is able to safeguard the brain from the negative effects of longtime stress. The study has suggested that the hippocampus – the area of the brain which deals with memory – strengthens if you exercise regularly. Put simply, it appears that regular exercise reduces the effects that stress has on your brain.
You see, well-functioning and healthy brain cells are able to easily transmit messages via your neurons, with your memories becoming more vivid and strong when your neurons are able to transfer these messages more quickly. However, as you become stressed and your brain tissues inflame and/or swell up, the speed of these neurons slows down, meaning that your memory becomes poorer and poorer with time.
However, when you perform cardiovascular exercise, you are increasing the rate at which blood flows around your body. This also affects your brain, meaning that more blood flows to your brain during exercise. This, put simply, strengthens your hippocampus and causes your memory to improve. The exercise can even increase the size of your hippocampus, making it even better and more efficient than it was before!
Exercise and mood
It’s a well-known fact that exercise triggers feel-good hormones such as endorphins, meaning that you naturally feel happier and less stressed after exercise. Although anti-depressants may aim to achieve similar effects which limit depression and anxiety, exercise is just as good (and often better) than taking antidepressants alone. Not only does exercise tend to release more endorphins than anything found in a pill – you’re also getting fitter, healthier, and a better memory while you’re at it too!
Emotions and memory are undoubtedly linked, with your most emotional moments having much stronger memories attached to them. It’s probably easier to recall moments of great sadness, joy, and anger in your life than it is to recall moments of boring mediocrity.
Anxiety is a condition which means that your body is constantly prepared for “fight or flight”, with a never-ending sense of fear and dread remaining over you whatever you do. This leads to a form of chronic stress, something which BYU’s study claims will make your brain’s synapses more effective. Fortunately, exercise is the best (and most natural way) to relieve general anxiety while also improving your brain’s memory and functioning. Studies have shown that when stress-prone people exercise, their brain tends to no longer be impacted negatively by their stress levels.
How much exercise do you need to improve your memory?
You don’t need to be a gym rat in order to improve your memory; you just have to make an effort! At least 150 minutes of exercise every week is enough to improve your memory and keep your brain healthy, and 150 every week is relatively easy to fit in across a week. If you can’t handle this much straight away, start small and go harder in time. At the end of the day, any exercise is better than no exercise.
It also helps to make exercise as fun as possible so that you don’t dread it as much. For example, listen to your favorite playlist or podcast while you run, or perhaps clean your house while dancing around and learning some new moves… whatever you can do to make it bearable. Your body and your brain will thank you!
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