Exercise your mind

Exercise is vital at any time of life. It is exercise that develops a child’s body and helps it acquire healthy bones and muscles. As you age exercise also becomes important and there is evidence that people who engage in aerobic and anaerobic exercise age better and at a slower rate than people who do not. Exercise is also important for the teenager and new research has shown how it has benefits for the teenage mind as well as the body.

The link between exercising and mental health is well established but the aim of these researchers was to see how that link worked.

To this end they gathered data on 7,000 participants aged 11 to 16. The subjects filled in a questionnaire that assessed their mental health, physical activity habits, their perception of their body weight, and their involvement in organised sports. The researchers also collected information on socioeconomic status, whether the subject lived with their parents, and whether they lived in an urban or rural area.

The results showed that the teens who did the least exercise and saw themselves as either too thin or too fat were the most likely to develop anxiety or depression. They were also the most likely to become involved in substance abuse or to become aggressive. It also emerged that those involved in organised sports were the least likely to experience mental problems.

The questionnaires revealed that there are two fundamental reasons underlying these results.

Firstly, exercise improves body structure leading to positive comments from peers and improved self-image. Secondly, exercise also involves social interaction, team spirit, and mutual support among team members.

On top of these psychosocial factors exercise also causes the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that change brain structure and function to reduce mental health issues.

As obesity and depression spiral out of control these results would underline the simple fact that policy makers around the world would do well to make giving people the opportunity to exercise a fundamental priority.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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Exercise your mind

Of all the recommendations that you receive for how to achieve health, exercise is not only the most widely offered but also the most widely accepted. This is not to say that everyone does all of the exercise that they know they should but everyone does accept that exercise promotes health. Mostly we think of exercise being good for the heart and also the bones but now new research has shown that physical exercise also benefits your brain.

Researchers have reported that in fact physical exercise has more than one measurable impact on your brain.

The neurons in your brain are made up of a cell body, a longer portion called an axon, and hair like projections called dendrites. It is dendrites that are responsible for picking up messages from nearby neurons. The more dendrites a neuron has, the more information it is able to transmit. Research has shown that repetitive gross motor movement, such as you would perform in all forms of physical training, encourages the branching of dendrites.

The authors of this report also say that there is a link between exercise and an important brain chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

BDNF helps to grow new neurons in the brain, particularly a region called the hippocampus, and assists in the transmission of information across the gaps (synapses) between neurons. BDNF levels are dependent on oxygen and glucose, both of which are boosted by exercise. So the equation goes: more exercise, more oxygen and glucose to the brain, more BDNF, equals more neurons better information transfer.

Theoretically, all of this should lead to a better functioning brain. Practically this has also been shown to be true as people with higher fitness levels have been proven to do better on academic tests and to have a greater ability to focus.

Exercise is medicine for body and mind. Your mind functions far better when your body has been exercising. This is why the idea of people doing largely mental work being chained to a desk all day is absurdly counterproductive. To produce on the mental level, people need to be physically active. Forward thinking workplaces are recognising this already and you can start your own mind-support program today by making sure that you at least go walking during some part of your day.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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