What happens to your brain on exercise?

Exercise.  This word often invokes feelings of dread about a chore that we must do.  “Get at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day” is what we hear at the doctor’s office.  You know the feeling when the triage nurse goes through her round of preliminary tests and questions…  I am pretty sure they tell us this is what we must do at least 5 times a week.  I  feel like telling them 3 times a week is a bit of an over-estimation but this is usually what I tell them because it sounds better than 2 – or none!

So what is the magic about the “20 to 30 minutes” anyway?  I did some online research and found some curious information.  The take-away message seems to be: this will make you happier!  It will help reduce symptoms of depression and stress.  How many of us take prescriptions to combat the daily tolls that our jobs take on our minds?  I am one of these people.  By the end of the week my brain is fried; I am brain-dead, exhausted, miserable, and wondering why this is how life is supposed to be for those of us in the work force.  I mean really?!

Realistically, 20 minutes out of a whole day is not much.  We really could do this!  Figuring out when exactly may be a bit of a challenge but ultimately it is worth taking the time to think it over and come up with a plan.

So how does 20 minutes of exercise make us happier?  Interactions between our cardiovascular, endocrine, and neurological system work to release hormones and other chemicals which give us that “feel good” feeling afterwards.  This feeling is likely to last all day long!

When we exercise, our brain recognizes a level of physical stress occurring when your heart pressure starts to increase.  To protect us from the stress the brain triggers a release of a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor).  BDNF acts as a protective and reparative force for our memory neurons.  This is what causes the “feel-good” after exercise.  Simultaneously, the brain triggers the release of those endorphins which tend to reduce the discomfort of exercise.  BDNF and endorphins can actually have the same addictive behavior as morphine, heroin, or nicotine!  So, let’s start an addiction!  A healthy addiction that is !

Research at Penn State University found that, “Those who had exercised during the preceding month but not on the day of testing generally did better on the memory test than those who had been sedentary, but did not perform nearly as well as those who had worked out that morning.”  The brain is much more active after a 20 minute walk than after sitting quietly.

As a matter of fact, author Gretchen Reynolds has written a whole book called The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer where she postulates we do not need to become professional athletes to achieve peak happiness and productivity levels.  Gretchen Reynolds says, “The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active.”

So, start small and build a daily keystone exercise habit!  Start with 5 minutes a day.  Take a walk, roll out the yoga mat, or do some vigorous house-work!  It doesn’t have to be intense!  Work your way up to 20 minutes and see how you feel.

Use an app to track your progress.  Put your exercise clothes on your alarm clock or leave your yoga mat rolled out on the floor and in full view.  Do what it takes for you to cultivate this habit.  The reward is that you will feel great!

I’m off for a walk now,

To your health!

Disclaimer:  All articles written on Microyogi are opinions and not meant to serve as any kind of instruction for how to move your body.  I am merely writing to serve as a means of trying to find my own answers.  I am not a certified trainer or medical expert.

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I'm a lab rat turned yogi. My interests lie in how yoga and meditation can help healthcare workers (and other frontline workers) relieve both physical and mental stress. Other interests include green living, clean eating, minimizing chemical exposure in our homes, and finally finding inner peace while minimizing anxiety.

2 thoughts on “What happens to your brain on exercise?”

  1. Great points! I’ve been horrible about getting in a little exercise every day, though I used to be great about it. What they say about an object in motion staying in motion is definitely true for us, too. Once I get back into the swing of things, I feel so much better. I don’t know why it’s sometimes so hard to get started, when I KNOW I will feel better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mindy! I know the feeling!!! Happens to me all the time. Got to drag myself to do it and then I feel great. I wish I could get excited and look forward to it. (Once in a while I do!)


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