We all know that exercise is good for us. Really good for us. If we didn't know that already we may have been living under a rock. But, do we know why? Maybe if we did it would be easier to get off the couch and actually get going!
To help give our motivation a boost, and understand a little more about why exercise makes us feel good, we caught up with Beingwell Psychologist Anna Sandford-James.
Anna, to start us off, why do you personally love exercising?
What I love about exercise is the way it integrates a cognitive and physical challenge. It’s the ultimate engaging activity. Exercise doesn’t need to be a toxic culture of doing it to look good or trying to get rid of what we see as ‘physical flaws’ - we can literally just do it for fun! One of my favourite exercise sessions is weight training as it involves my brain working to coordinate and connect to every part of my body to carry out complex actions.
"My entire focus is on keeping going. Exercise provides a welcome break from negative thoughts and worries. Although my body might be tired after the workout, my mind always feels refreshed."
Awesome, thanks! Now onto the burning question - why do our brains love exercising?
1. Exercise is scientifically proven to make us feel good
Exercising involves the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) using the endocrine system (a system of glands that make hormones) to communicate with the rest of the body through hormones. Chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins are released to help the body cope with more activity, this also boosts our mood- helping us to feel happier.
2. Exercising makes us smarter
I like listening to podcasts when I go running as I feel I can take in and remember what is said better than listening when doing any other type of activity.
"Exercise, particularly aerobic activity, causes the release of brain-derived-neuroprotective-factor (BDNF) which stimulates brain growth and improves the brain’s ability to think and process information. This chemical encourages the brain’s neuroplasticity, or its ability to adapt and change, supporting learning and building mental resilience."
3. Exercise helps us to get out of our own heads
I tend to figure things out without really trying when I go for a run, seeing things from a different perspective. During exercise, the brain puts more energy into sensory and motor areas to carry out actions and monitor performance.
This means activity in the thinking part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) gets turned down as a result. This is known as ‘hypofrontality’. It's great because it makes it easier for less conscious areas of the brain to produce ideas and perspective that we otherwise might not get to experience.
What advice would you give to those of us wanting to move more?
Exercising is so good for physical, psychological and social wellbeing. There are so many sports to choose from, but, team sports have the added benefit of connecting you to others and helping you feel like you belong.
I think that one of the best things about team sports is that people want to have fun together, they aren’t just doing them to get fit. Playing team sports is all about working toward shared goals with different people, it’s a wonderful opportunity to make friends.
That being said, if you don’t feel like doing exercise in front of others, there are still many things you can do individually to engage yourself in exercise - in a fun way! These can even involve fancy health tech like the Nintendo ‘RingFit Adventure’. I like the RingFit because it’s all about completing fun games that are personalised to the way your body naturally moves (this is the same with the Wii Fit, or any games console using sensor technology). One of my favourite things about technology is how it is opening new possibilities to help us look after our health and engage our brains.
Well, there we have it! Exercise is scientifically proven to help us feel good through the production of happy hormones. Not only this but it also helps our brains grow - making us smarter, more resilient, and more able to learn effectively, adapt and change, think more clearly and process information. While we're exercising we can also escape our own thoughts by becoming immersed 'in the present moment', or gain a fresh perspective. We're not sure about you but after hearing this we're about ready to close our laptop and get moving!