Exercise Builds Better Brains

Exercise Builds Better Brains

Most gym goers and fitness enthusiasts are well versed in the multitudinous ways in which exercise and physical exertion can benefit the body, but how about the mind? Through the progression of research in exercise physiology, long-standing dichotomies that held mind qualitatively separate from body – brain separate from brawn – are beginning to dissolve in the face of literature that illustrates the symbiosis of thought and physics. 

An important example of this can be found in a small cortical protein called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (or BDNF, for short). This long-winded protein is intimately linked with memory, cognition, and a phenomenon that up until recently was thought to be impossible: neurogenesis. More to the point, BDNF increases the rate and quality with which people are able to learn and remember, and even facilitates the growth of new neurons (extra brain matter). In essence, BDNF stimulates your brain’s neurons so they will grow faster and develop stronger connections between each other and with your body.

You may be thinking “Great, but what does this have to do with exercise”? I’ll tell you. Exercise causes circulating BDNF and it’s expression in brain tissue to increase dramatically. This results in improved neuroplasticity and therefore a greater capacity for learning, remembering, and developing harmony between the brain and the body.

The Brain That Changes Itself, a recent publication and a great read detailing some awe-inspiring accounts of the power of neuroplasticity, cites an array of examples in which the brain is able to adapt and change through the power of will and concentrated training. While the focus of this book is on neuro-rehabilitation, these examples extend to the realm of physical fitness. Because exercise stimulates metabolic processes that increase levels of things like endorphins, dopamine, and BDNF, it is clear that the benefits of exercise extend beyond the physical. By committing yourself to an active lifestyle you are doing more than making yourself look and perform better, you are making yourself feel, learn, and remember better as well.

Your brain and your body are intimately connected and shouldn’t be thought of as separate, competing entities. By nourishing your body through exercise you are also nourishing your brain. In sum, while it may be true that the pen is mightier than the sword, it appears that the pen grows mightier through the sword.

Bobby Thomas
Strength and Conditioning Specialist 


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