In a recent paper, Wendy A. Suzuki, a neuroscientist and professor at New York University, talks about her experience and research with exercise, and the surprising effects it has on the brain. At age 39 Wendy started working out regularly after many years of a sedentary lifestyle. She soon noticed a profound difference in not only her body, but also her brain.
Exercise has immediate effects on ones mood and way of thinking. As a neuroscientist and gym rat Wendy couldn’t help but question whether these neurological benefits have an impact on how we live, learn and age as human beings.
She started by looking at how exercise decreases stress, one of the most obvious and immediate benefits of working out. When you exercise your brain immediately increases the output of neurotransmitters such as, serotonin, noradrenalin, dopamine and endorphins. These neurotransmitters are often depleted by anxiety and depression. That’s why you may have heard of the “runners high”. This is an increase in the release of endorphins which causes a euphoric feeling.
Suzuki admits her favorite neuroscience-based motivation for exercise relates to the effects on the hippocampus-a major part of the brain that is key for long-term memory. Humans have two hippocampi. The hippocampus is one of a kind because it is one of two areas of the brain where new brain cells continue to be generated though out our lives. According to Suzuki some studies have shown that improved memory directly correlates to levels of increased physical activity.
Suzuki’s lab is focusing on identifying how to use exercise to optimize brain function for humans of all ages and athletic abilities. Can you imagine if exercise became a regular routine for the majority of our population; we could have a healthier, less stress and more productive society.
In conclusion, neuroscience has given us a synopsis to understand how exercise can be used to help make us happier, healthier and more productive. Let us not only exercise so we can have ripped beach bods, but also to improve mental health and happiness.