Exercise is good for you, you know that by now. It keeps you fit, improves your mood, makes you socialize and allows you to indulge in the real luxury these days: having your “me-time”.
Now science is understanding in more and more detail where the well-being generated by sports activity comes from. We already knew about endorphins and runner’s high (the euphoric feeling you have after running or exercising more generally). Now the mechanisms governing these positive reactions are becoming increasingly clear. But to get to know them, we need to familiarize with some somewhat strange names. Hello? Go!
We meet our first hero: brain neurotrophic factor or BDNF, one of the most important molecules in brain processes, responsible for the formation of connections between neurons and synapses. Sport stimulates its production, and several positive effects follow from this. In fact, the more active the brain is, the more creative and productive it can be. Accelerated activity in areas of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus allows one to be more responsive and capable of complex thinking, and thus to find stimuli and solutions. You are, in short, more responsive and capable of solving issues that a lazy brain would not easily handle.
It also appears that BDNF stimulates the creation of new brain cells, although this phenomenon has only been demonstrated with laboratory guinea pigs because it would require a measurement in humans that involves opening the skull (somewhat uncomfortable and creepy, as well as having some predictable life consequences). People have long been discussing and trying to prove that brain cells are not only destined to decrease in number-one of the things they taught us in school-but that, in fact, they can reproduce and multiply over time. It would be one of the most important demonstrations in the field.
Or “vascular endothelial growth factor.” I agree with you: these heroes do not have particularly exciting or easy-to-remember names. But that is all about us, doesn’t it?
What is this factor? It is a molecule that enables the formation of new blood vessels. When you exercise, blood flows everywhere in your body to feed your muscles and tissues, so more of it gets to your brain as well. The formation of new blood vessels may be related to the need to feed new cells. 2+2 is 4 and you’ll see that scientists are trying to prove just that: if a molecular factor that indicates that new blood vessels are forming increases, it means it’s happening because they have to feed new cells–in the brain.
Finally, let’s talk about heroes you already know: serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Friends whose levels rise when you work out, making you feel so good. We have often referred to this process as a vicious-virtuous circle. Vicious because it “forces” you to seek the benefits and virtuous because seeking them leads you to exercise, with the resulting benefits. The mechanism that governs these processes is psychologically that of reward. Doing sports makes you feel good and, by rewarding yourself, makes you always seek – like an addict, but the good kind – that feeling of well-being.
Finally, there is also a proportion between well-being generated by physical activity and the amount of activity you have to do. The more intense it is and the more it requires the heart to work (thus operating at high speeds) the more intense the effects on the brain and cognitive level will be.
The more you play sports, the more satisfied your brain will be, rewarding you with well-being, productivity, good mood and serenity. Definitely worth it, in short ;)
(Ideas for this article are taken from“This Is What Exercise Does to Your Brain.”)