People are always banging on about how important exercise is for… everything.
Perhaps one of the biggest and most-touted benefits of doing regular physical activity is that it increases happiness. Yep, exercise = better mood. Duh! We get it!
But before you click that little ‘x’ at the top of the page, take a look at what actually happens in your brain after a 20 minute walk:
Significant chemical changes are definitely occurring in the brain on the right.
You might have heard that magical feel-good chemicals called endorphins are released during and after exercise. But what does that actually mean? It’s a lot more complex than it sounds.
Firstly, your brain recognises exercise as stress, and releases chemicals to “protect” your body from the stress. From the moment you begin exercising – as the pressure in your heart builds – you release a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor).
BDNF protects but also repairs the memory neurons in your brain, which effectively acts as a reset switch. As Leo Widrich at Buffer explains, that’s why you often feel so at ease and things seem clearer after exercise.
At the same time, endorphins (also chemicals that fight stress) are released in your brain. Endorphins minimise the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain and give you that addictive “feel good” rush.
Together, BDNF and endorphins provide the mood-boost and mental clarity. But it’s important to remember that you don’t need to be out running marathons to reap the benefits of exercise.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that exercise has to be hard,” writes New York Times health columnist Gretchen Reynolds. “That exercise means marathon running or riding your bike for three hours or doing something really strenuous. [But] humans were born to stroll.”
Further, research suggests that we might not actually benefit from doing any more than 20 minutes of exercise a day. “You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active,” Reynolds explains.
The best exercise you can do for your body and mind? Walk. Every day.
“If people want to be healthier and prolong their life span, all they really need to do is go for a walk,” Reynolds stresses. “It’s the single easiest thing anyone can do.”
How often do you exercise, and what activities do you enjoy doing most?