Simply put, exercise is one of the most beneficial things we can do, both for our minds and our bodies. In fact, exercising regularly can have immediate and long-lasting protective benefits for your brain, such as helping prevent depression and Alzheimer’s Disease, and can even make us more productive.
Immediate Health Benefits
Immediately after a single session at the gym, basketball game, or any other sweat-inducing workout, your levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline will rise. These neurotransmitters are involved in mood regulation, and the higher levels of them right after a workout will increase your mood right after the exercise. Right after a single workout, your ability to shift and focus attention is improved, and in fact, this effect can last for up to 2 hours.
Long-term exercise, around 3-4 times per week with some aerobic activity has many long-term benefits. First, exercise helps produce new brain cells in the hippocampus, increasing its volume and helping improve long-term memory. Long-term exercise helps improve attention functions dependent on the prefrontal cortex, improving both your focus and attention. Since the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are two brain areas that are most susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline in aging, by exercising and increasing the size and strength of these brain parts, it takes longer for these diseases to have an effect on your brain.
Besides helping resist neurodegenerative diseases, exercise has also been proven to greatly improve mental health. Exercise has been shown to greatly reduce day-to-day stress, increase self-reported levels of happiness, and decrease levels of sadness and loneliness both short-term and long-term. Exercise also helps prevent depression and anxiety, and can even be as beneficial as taking drugs to help cure these problems. In fact, running for just 15 minutes per day or walking for 1 hour can reduce the risk of major depression by 26%! These benefits occur because exercise helps boost your body’s production of endorphins, hormones that help create an analgesic effect and help your body relax, feel less pain and more pleasure, and reduce levels of a stress hormone, cortisol, in your body. Playing team sports or exercising with a partner or “gym buddy” can also boost mode, decrease feelings of loneliness, and help improve self-esteem as well.
Though it seems counterintuitive to spend a part of your day to fill up part of your day with something other than working, this conclusion isn’t true. Exercising daily can consist of having a meeting while walking or even taking the stairs when available, and this can in turn help improve memory, concentration, accelerated learning and creativity, and lower stress. These benefits will help improve you productivity, both short-term and long-term, and prevent the risk of burnout. In fact, many business executives such as Mark Cuban often exercise (Cuban frequently plays pickup basketball) in order to improve their health, and gain these benefits.