So, as my mind often does once it has an idea, I felt the need to go and garner some knowledge on the topic and do some reading on the effect exercise has on the brain. It made some very interesting reading (interesting to me at least! If you are bored easily you may want to switch off .... now!)
Did you know that exercise can actually help improve your memory? Apparently, it triggers the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus (get me with my big words!), which is the brains centre for learning and memory. Not only does it generate new neurons, but it also repairs. Most of us humans start to loose nerve tissue by the age of 30, but exercise plays a big part in triggering chemical reactions that encourage the creation and repair of the nerve tissue which helps our brain in processing and storing information. I am pretty sure you can't exercise with the aim of becoming a genius, but every little helps right?
Exercise makes you happy! There has been lots of research and studies carried out on the effect exercise can have in treating depression. Depression is related to low levels of neurotransmitters like Serotonin and Norepinephrine (try saying that after a few gins!) When you exercise, neurotransmitters increase in concentration and when released into the blood stream they enhance your mood.
Okay, this is the part that fascinated me. I've heard of endorphins before but never really understood what they are.
Endorphins are little molecules which our pituitary glands release in response to stress and/or pain. They enter the neurons that carry pain impulses to the brain and attach themselves to receptors. These receptors are the same ones that drugs like morphine and heroin attach themselves to. The endorphins work against the pain carrying neurons and induce an analgesic state, blocking the pain from getting to the brain and actually inducing a feeling of euphoria.
When I read this my reaction was "but I still feel pain when I exercise". The endorphins are not released until around 30 minutes after starting a physical activity - 'No Pain, No Gain'. The discomfort of exercise is more immediately felt than its benefits, which perhaps explains why so many people give up on it so easily. People do get addicted to that 'feel good feeling' when they exercise and the more you exercise, the more you need to push it to get the same euphoric effect.
As if the euphoria is not enough, Endorphins also stimulate the immune system and can help in postponing the ageing process, keeping you young and beautiful. Who needs botox when a wee bit of exercise does the trick?!
When you put all those wonderful little chemical reactions that are exploding left right and centre while you exercise together with the feeling of accomplishment you get after a hard session, that little slice of escapism from your day, and the opportunity to de-stress, it's easy to see where the term 'Healthy Body, Healthy Mind' comes from and it may actually ring true.