Doing sports not only form the body; they have a profound effect on the human brain. We explore the cutting edge of science, where fitness meets with neurobiology!
Author: Michael Mannino
Today, many believe that sports can affect the mood, a sense of well-being, the ability to perform tests and solve other intellectual problems. What was missing was evidence that the relationship between the body and the mind is not just a blind faith, not backed up by real facts.
New research on the search for connections between the body and consciousness led to the discovery of physical mechanisms through which the body affects our brain. After seven million years of evolution, almost half of the physical structure of the human brain is dedicated to monitoring the body's functions, and the other half is responsible for perceiving signals from the outside world. Since such a large part of the brain is focused on the physical shell, it is quite logical that the body, and with it, we, can exert a profound influence on consciousness.
All our thoughts and beliefs are dictated by the brain, like any physical activity, any decision taken. But is the converse true: can the body dictate its conditions to reason? In the light of recent discoveries, it is not surprising that the mechanisms by which consciousness determines the intangible aspects of life are closely related to physical activity.
Exercises: fertilizer for your brain
The brain performs its functions through neural networks, each of which consists of separate centers of the brain and the connections between them. Once we thought that in an adult, these complex neural networks are static and unchanged. Now we know that the structures of the brain remain "plastic" throughout life, and they can be changed through training, experience and – as we already understand – sports. The ability of the central nervous system to change is known as neuroplasticity.
Studies have shown that sports have both a short-term and long-term impact on neuroplasticity. They give the brain the ability to "reflash" itself to improve mood, to create a sense of well-being, to improve learning skills in children and the degree of self-control in adults. Exercises even increase the speed with which the brain processes information.
Physical activity presumably increases the body's potential to create new cells of the nervous system, which are called neurons. Previously it was believed that the number of neurons in humans is predetermined and does not increase from the moment of birth. That is, if someone suffered a trauma or a disease that killed some of the neurons, their body will never replace them.
Now we know that this is not true. Certain areas of the brain – in particular, responsible for motor and cognitive activity, training, memory and incentive system – the body can fully grow from completely new neurons through a process known as neurogenesis. Perhaps this is due to the influence of exercises on a certain hormone of the brain, known as the neurotropic factor of the brain (BDNF). For the brain, the neurotropic factor is a kind of fertilizer.
Several studies have clearly demonstrated that exercises significantly increase the production of the neurotrophic factor. In animal experiments, it has been proven that the more BDNF is synthesized in the brain, the higher its ability to learn, remember, assimilate information, improve mood and increase "inhibitory control".
Inhibitory control has to do with self-control. This term determines the ability of a person to consciously distance the moment of encouragement. Exercises increase the degree of inhibitory control, which subsequently improves our ability to change habits or patterns of behavior. In turn, this allows us to reorient ourselves to achieve more global goals that bring great benefits in the long run. The simplest example is the development of willpower and habit to start the day with training, and not postpone it to "after work", when you can not always practice.
Influence of different types of load on brain function
In the experiments, the influence of four types of exercises on neuroplasticity and neurogenesis was studied. In each case, the results confirmed the available data and gave new information that physical activity has a direct – and very material – effect on the brain.
All types of exercises have a positive effect on the brain, but cardio-operations are particularly effective in enhancing blood flow in key areas. The results of the study published in the journal "Advanced discoveries of human neurophysiology" showed that women with a higher level of physical fitness (determined by maximum oxygen consumption) scored more points in the evaluation of control functions. Also, scientists have found that these women have increased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain that is responsible for making decisions, planning for the future, purposeful behavior and emotions.
Published in the "Bulletin of Neurophysiology" study showed that regular training in strength training can positively affect the health of the brain in women. Scientists have concluded that women who train at least once a week receive significantly more blood to the brain than those who do not exercise. Deterioration of cerebral circulation as a result of natural aging processes negatively affects physical and mental health. Increased risk of stroke, depression, chronic fatigue and decreased cognitive function.
The scientific work published in the journal "Auxiliary therapy in clinical practice" was devoted to a review of various studies that studied the effect of yoga on brain activity and structural changes in the CNS. The results showed that yoga and exercises for posture significantly increase brain activity. The authors suggested that this can improve mood, increase concentration and a general sense of well-being.
High-intensity interval training (VIIT)
The latest studies show that short intervals of submaximal activity, known as high-intensity interval training (VIIT), can improve cerebral circulation and trophic neurons, which can lead to increased brain activity.
Many of the above studies are preliminary, and are conducted in a relatively new area of brain research. Nevertheless, even now scientists are discovering a lot of very real, very tangible and material changes that occur at the cellular level inside the brain against the background of increased physical activity. And although much research is still to be done, what was once based on faith becomes a fact, a recognized and proven science.