Text: Mar Aguilar / Production: Adriana Toca
No one doubts that doing physical exercise on a daily basis is good for your health. It has been shown to benefit the heart, lungs, bones and muscles, among other organs. In addition, it is recommended to maintain our weight, along with a healthy diet. But what effects does it have on a mental level beyond helping us to disconnect or reduce stress? Can it be good for our brain? Let’s find out.
The effects of physical activity on mental health is something that scientists have been studying for decades. Some studies have shown the existence of a relationship between physical exercise and a lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases, as well as the improvement of complex cognitive functions such as attention and short-term memory.
According to experts, moving your body helps your mind in three essential ways:
Researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland and the University of Tsukuba in Japan found that playing sports with other people affects cognitive performance more than physical activities alone.
Coordination and interaction with other players can lead to the growth of new brain cells and neural connections in the frontal lobe.
The hippocampus is an area of the brain that plays an important role in memory management and where the effects of exercise can be best perceived. In tests with mice, the area was seen to get larger as the animals moved further. In humans, what has been seen is not that the hippocampus grows as a result of physical exercise, but that it helps don’t get smaller as time goes by. Some neuroscientists point out that after the age of 40 the hippocampus gets roughly 5% smaller every decade. Aerobic exercises, such as running or cycling they would be the best at limiting the deterioration that occurs naturally in the brain as a result of the passage of time.
“When you exercise, your body pumps out a wide range of neurochemicals, including growth factors that stimulate the birth of new brain cells in the hippocampus. I use this information as my personal motivation to keep exercising every day, ”Wendy Suzuki, professor of neural science and psychology at the New York University Center for Neural Science, told Health.com.
Research shows that exercise can mitigate symptoms of depression. It can also improve the quality of sleep, helping to maintain good mental health.