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Our brains need exercise. Another reason to MOVE!

Yeah, we know, we know…exercise is good for us. 

We feel better, our physiques change, our clothes look and fit differently, and our health is improved. Our bodies respond positively to activity; but have you thought about what happens to that eight-pound organ between our ears? We’ve heard of the runner’s high—“a feeling of euphoria that is experienced by some individuals engaged in strenuous running and that is held to be associated with a release of endorphins by the brain”--So does that mean, we have to strain ourselves for HOURS to get that good feeling?

NOPE. Exercise is more than a body workout; it’s what our minds need.  AND 20 minutes can do the trick.

Our brains on exercise.

As we begin an exercise bout, our bodies feel stress.  Blood pressure elevates, as does heart rate and body temperature. Inside our skull, the brain kicks into “fight or flight” mode and releases a protein and an endorphin. A protein called BNTF protects and repairs memory neurons[1] and acts like a reset button. Wonder why we feel refreshed after an excellent workout? BNTF! Endorphins are released and block the feeling of exercise-related pain and discomfort. It’s also associated with euphoric feelings.[2] Runners’ high? More like an exercise high!

Let’s get cerebral.

Our brain isn’t too active when we’re idle. Throw in a crossword puzzle or some Sudoku and it starts to rev the engine. Swap that mental task with something physical (a walk or a bike ride) and brain activity skyrockets! Aerobic activity can spare age-related loss of brain tissue during the aging process.[3] You can keep your mind and body ticking along with some regular exercise. Heck, it can even make us happier and more productive.[4] But what is the minimum we can do?

Train your brain; train your body

We don’t need much to get the benefits of exercise…just 20 minutes and a routine. You don’t need to train like an Olympian…just have the focus of one. 20 minutes of physical activity can prolong our life and reduce the risk of disease.[5]

Make it habitual

Did you read that last paragraph? You need 20 minutes! That’s it!

  • Morning person? Put your gym bag at the foot of your bed or by the door.
  • Lunch-hour exerciser? Keep your gear on your desk. It’s staring at you!
  • Like the post-work stress release? Get a crew to meet at the gym or on the road.
  • Think you’re busy? 20 minutes. That’s dinner. That’s Internet time. That’s one show on Netflix. That’s nothing!

Think of the kids.

Face it: kids are getting less activity. Bodies and brains are suffering as a result. Just walking to school alone will boost brain development[6] and keep kids fit.[7]Good habits start young. Spend time with your kids and walk to school. Turn off the devices. Get active.

This article was written by Daniel Gaz. Along with Dan's clinical research work at Mayo Clinic, he is also a contributing editor to Athletic-Minded Traveler

[1] Ferris LT, Williams JS, Shen CL. The effect of acute exercise on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and cognitive function. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Apr;39(4):728-34.

[2] McGovern MK. The effects of exercise on the brain. Spring 2005.

[3] Gomez-Pinilla F, Hillman C. The influence of exercise on cognitive abilities. Compr Physiol. 2013 Jan;3(1):403-28. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c110063.

[4] Hopkins ME et al. Differential effects of acute and regular physical exercise on cognition and affect. Neuroscience. 2012 Jul 26;215:59-68. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2012.04.056. Epub 2012 Apr 30.

[5] Reynolds, Gretchen. The first 20 minutes: surprising science reveals how we can exercise better, train smarter, live longer. Penguin, 2012.

[6] Martinez-Gomez D et al. Active Commuting to School and Cognitive Performance in Adolescents: The AVENA Study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(4):300-305.

[7] Mendoza JA, Liu Y. Active commuting to elementary school and adiposity: an observational study. Child Obes. 2014 Feb;10(1):34-41.

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