The Brain-Changing Benefits of Exercise – Wendy Suzuki
The brain is the most complex organ inside any living being. For human beings who possess superior mind performance as compared to other animals, the brain is even more complex. Even though it weighs about 3.3 pounds and makes up for 2 percent of an average person’s weight, scientists have spent hundreds of years trying to figure out how it works.
Brain-changing benefits of exercise:
Enter Wendy Suzuki, a professor of neural science. She has studied the effects of exercise on the brain on herself, and shares her personal experiences about the brain-changing benefits of exercise:
Things to know before proceeding further:
Wendy starts her speech by elaborating to her audience about two main parts of a human brain:
- Prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that is responsible for critical thinking as well as “decision-making, focus, attention and your personality”.
- Hippocampus – the average human brain has two temporal lobes, both of which play a vital role in developing and retaining “long-term memories for facts and events”.
The hippocampus works in mysterious ways:
Wendy shares that she has “always been fascinated with the hippocampus”. Her words that followed this statement only added to the mystery of the brain: “How could it be that an event that lasts just a moment…. can form a memory that has changed your brain, that lasts a lifetime?” – while adding examples of how the memory of one’s firstborn can dramatically change how they look at life.
All great knowledge is discovered through coincidence
In school, we were often taught that most scientific breakthroughs were made through mere coincidence. For example, penicillin – what started the era of antibiotics – was discovered by mere accident. Other great things like insulin, microwaves, even corn flakes were founded or discovered by accident.
Wendy shares that because she was so cooped up in her house studying about the brain, she was miserable. So, she did what most people her age do: go on a river-rafting trip. It was after this trip that she decided to exercise enough to gain strength. Her regular exercising turned out to be a vital point for her research.
Professor Suzuki noticed that her grant-writing skills had improved dramatically within a year and a half of regular exercise.
Benefits of exercise:
Grant-writing was the first improvement that Wendy had noticed after consistently exercising – but it was not the last. After deciding to thoroughly research this study, as most scientists do, she shares that “all that exercise that I had included and added to my life was changing my brain”.
Some other benefits of exercise that Wendy was able to figure out were better mood, better energy, better memory, better attention.
Major benefit 01: Immediate effects on your brain
Wendy shares that she found three major benefits of exercise for one’s brain. The first and the most prominent benefit was that a single workout can “immediately increase levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline”.
Dopamine is the chemical that is responsible for reward-motivated behavior. It rewards the person with a lighter mood when one achieves something. Similarly, serotonin is a chemical that can help regulate mood and social behavior, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory, sexual drive and function. Noradrenaline is a simple hormone that is responsible for maintaining blood pressure. It also produces the ‘fight or flight’ response that gets your heart pumping.
Wendy shares that a single workout can “improve your ability to shift and focus attention… for at least two hours”. This is true because serotonin can help greatly improve one’s attention and memory. Other chemicals can also boost your brain’s cognitive and memory function. She also shares that a single workout can dramatically improve reaction times – which is the ability of a person to react faster to something happening.
Major benefit 02: improved function:
Wendy shares that the immediate effects on one’s brain are “transient”, and do not last long. To get long-lasting benefits from exercise, one has to constantly change their exercise regime and increase cardiorespiratory function. By consistently never letting your body get used to something, you are essentially making the hippocampus create brand new brain cells. These cells are much more efficient and can change one’s anatomy, physiology and function.
The “most common finding in neuroscience studies” shares Wendy is “improved attention function dependent on your prefrontal cortex” as she continues referring to exercise. One not only gets to enjoy better focus and attention, but the number of brain cells in the hippocampus increases exponentially as well.
Major benefit 03: improves protection:
“The brain [is] like a muscle” shares the neuroscience professor. “The more you’re working out, the bigger and stronger your hippocampus and prefrontal cortex gets”.
Wendy goes on to explain that most of the brain diseases are caused due to two main parts of the brain: the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. Some of the conditions they can get include neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline in aging.
“You’re not going to cure dementia or Alzheimer’s disease” – warns Wendy as she goes on to explain that one should not overhype the benefits of exercise on the brain, “but what you're going to do is you're going to create the strongest, biggest hippocampus and prefrontal cortex so it takes longer for these diseases to actually have an effect.”
How much exercise do we have to do?
Wendy shares that you don’t have to spend hours at the gym to start seeing benefits for the brain. She shares that one should “get three to four times a week exercise minimum 30 minutes a session”. This means that 30 minutes of exercise is enough to start having a positive impact.
She further goes on to soothe the concerns of the audience by sharing that one does not even have to do an intensive workout. “Add an extra walk around the block in your power walk” as Wendy comforts the concerned crowd: “take stairs”.
Wendy ends her speech by sharing once again that exercise can help improve their mood and lead to a happier life, as well as protect the brain from dangerous diseases. It is one thing to think about exercise, but anyone can exercise if they have the right mind. They don’t need heavy equipment or dumb-bells.