Maybe you exercise to tone your thighs, build your biceps, or flatten your belly. Or maybe you work out to ward off the big killers like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But how about sweating to improve your mind? "Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning," says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. "Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain." If you need a little extra incentive to lace up those sneakers, here are five ways that exercise can boost your brainpower.
Then, step your left foot directly behind you (about 2 feet) and bend both knees to lower into a reverse lunge, creating two 90-degree angles with your legs. In this positioning, your shoulders should be directly above your hips and your chest should be upright (not leaning forward or back). Your right shin should be perpendicular to the floor and your right knee should be stacked above your right ankle. Your butt and core should be engaged.
Exercise acts as a temporary diversion to daily stresses and it improves self-esteem. Increased core temperature during exercise may lead to reduced muscle tension and favourable alterations in brain neurotransmitters. Mood improvements may also occur due to the increased secretion of endogenous (internal) opiates, e.g. endorphins. Psychological changes may occur because of changes in norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, all hormones which can affect mood and anxiety levels.
Endorphins are hormones in the brain associated with a happy, positive feeling. A low level of endorphins is associated with depression. During exercise, plasma levels of this substance increase. This may help to ease symptoms of depression. A recent National Health and Nutrition survey found that physically active people were half as likely to be depressed.
FIT TIP: If you exercised on an empty or almost-empty stomach, you're probably feeling light-headed or even nauseated or headachy. Your immediate food fix: A high-carb nosh, like a banana or half a bagel, will refuel you and kick-start your recovery. And don't forget to drink plenty of water with your snack. Intense or long workouts can leave you dehydrated.
Bend your knees and push your butt back toward your heels, and then explode from that position back to a high plank and immediately bend your elbows and bring your chest toward the ground to do a push-up. As you bend your elbows and lower toward the ground, your elbows should be at about a 45-degree angle to your body (though you can make adjustments based on what feels best for your shoulders).
HOW TO DO IT: Start in a high plank with your hands underneath your shoulders. Jump your feet outside your hands and drop into a deep squat position, pushing your knees out and keeping your feels flat on the floor while prying your chest open with your hands. Return to the starting position and repeat. For an added challenge, try moving both forward and backward.
Model Amanda Wheeler is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (C.S.C.S.) and Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach. She is the co-founder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ community and allies by providing a space for individuals to uncover and enhance their highest potential through fitness, nutrition, and mindset.
This is a particularly cool one. Neuroscientists used to believe the brain was the only organ incapable of growing new cells—which partly makes sense, since we need our brains to be relatively stable over time, to keep our memories intact and to keep us us. But in recent years, it’s become clear that the brain, too, can grow new neurons, in a process called neurogenesis. And what seems to spur the growth of new neurons, perhaps above other activities, is aerobic exercise. (Other things, like meditation and antidepressant medication, have also been shown to trigger brain new cell growth.) The area of the brain that seems most capable of growing new cells is the hippocampus, the seat of learning and memory. It's also the area that’s known to “shrink” in depression, and particularly in dementia—so the fact that we may have some control over its health is exciting.
But, before jumping right in, take Candice’s advice. “Single leg and double leg [glute bridges] along with squats are super beneficial lower body exercises that activate glutes. Doing glute bridges prior to lunging and squatting helps ensure you get actual glute engagement when you squat, lunge, etc. so you are working the right muscles. Activation makes a huge difference—wakes ‘em up!”
Poorly toned triceps -- the muscles on the backs of the arms -- can cause arms to be loose and jiggly. Tone up this area with standing overhead triceps extensions. Hold a light weight in your left hand with your arm straight above your head, elbow by your ear. Keep your upper arm still as you bend the elbow and forearm to bring the weight behind your head. Return to start position and repeat 10 to 12 times or until fatigue sets in. Repeat on the right arm and complete three sets in total per arm.
Flabby arms are something a lot of us have to tend to. If you find yourself buying a sweater or cardigan to go with your tank top or usually opt for the long-sleeved dress, then you’re not alone. Usually a result of genes, general excess fat or just ageing, it seems difficult to lose arm fat. The fat in our arms accumulates mainly around the triceps – the muscles on the back of your upper arm – and are prone to getting flabby if not exercised regularly.
Though there are many ways in which you can improve the appearance of your arms, we need to let you in on a little secret — arm fat is totally normal — especially with regards to women! The reason for this is quite natural, as women have higher levels of estrogen, which means there is a physiological need for some extra fat to remain healthy (actually, a whole 6-11% more fat than men). This fat is particularly useful for women who are expecting, as it ensures that the baby has enough reserves to sustain itself.
1. It strengthens the heart. The heart is a muscle. Like other muscles, its performance improves when it's regularly challenged by exercise. The heart responds to exercise by becoming stronger and more efficient. Strengthening the heart muscle can help ward off heart disease -- the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- even in early childhood.
It brings on better sleep. If you're having sleep problems, skip the pills and hit the pool, track or spin studio. According to one study, people who exercised regularly for about 10 weeks reported sleeping better than they had previously. What exactly does “better” mean? In this case, it translated to dozing off faster and having a decreased need for sleep-promoting medication.
Exercise has long been correlated with a longer life, but it’s only recently started to become clear why this might be. Studies, like a new one in the journal Preventive Medicine which found that exercise is linked to longer caps at the ends of chromosomes, have helped flesh this out a bit more. These caps, called telomeres, naturally shorten as we age, with each cell division. People who live a long time have telomeres that are in better shape than those who don’t—but there’s a lot we can do to affect the rate at which they shorten over the years. The team behind the new study looked at data from CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and found that for people who exercised regularly, their telomeres were 140 base pairs longer on average than sedentary people's. Which correlates to being years “younger” than their sedentary peers.