Exercise may improve brains, not just brawn

Exercises commonly known to help your body’s health are now considered great mental health boosters as well.

Several fitness studies have found that aerobic, anaerobic and new exercises called neurobics can play a vital function in improving mental health.

Aerobic exercises – those that increase your heart rate and require a greater intake of oxygen, such as brisk walking, jogging, and biking – were found by researchers to increase the brain’s oxygen intake allowing better cognitive reaction and a greater ability to complete metal tasks.

“This is because when you exercise, the body releases endorphins which are 200 times more powerful than morphine,” said Raeford Brown, an associate psychology professor at Florida A&M University.

“The high from these pain-killing hormones relieves depression, reduces mood swings and has tremendous psychological advantages.”

The American Psychological Association Professional Psychology Journal, found that anaerobic exercises, exercises that do not require large amounts of oxygen intake, such as weight lifting, are equally effective in improving mental health.

Both aerobic and anaerobic exercises were found to reduce the symptoms of depression, anxiety, anger, confusion and tension.

Toby McMann, city director of education of Gold’s Gym and Women’s World in Tallahassee, said most mental health benefits are primarily found in aerobic exercise.

“Aerobic exercises increases the feel-good factor and increases the ability to focus, but you need a combination of both,” she said. “Anaerobic activity increases muscle activity, bones density and increases overall health.”

Chip Heimbach, the wellness and fitness coordinator at FAMU, said that exercise can also give students a sense of accomplishment, help them prioritize and set goals academically.

“If you look at cardiovascular fitness training you have a long term goal that you take small steps towards,” Heimbach said, adding that, “Just like you study regularly for a test to get a good grade, you exercise regularly to improve your health; the methods are the same.”

Busy students who commonly combine exercise and studying may save time, but research also showed that studying while exercising did not give the same psychological benefits as exercising without studying.

On the other hand, a Princeton University study found that exercising with a friend or group is better for the brain, rather than exercising alone. 

However, people who exercised alone regularly still scored higher on mental tests, had improved memory and learned faster than those who did not exercise regularly.

If getting to the gym is almost impossible, Lawrence C. Katz, a neurobiology professor at Duke University, has created a new type of exercise to improve mental health called neurobics.

According to Katz, neurobics is a system of brain exercises using the five senses and designed to help your brain manufacture, strengthen and preserve cells.

Brown says that Katz’s findings are theoretically not possible because the brain does not manufacture cells after the second year of life.

“What (Katz) may be referring to is neuro-plasticity; when unoccupied or unused brain cells take over the function of damaged or preoccupied brain cells,” Brown said. “The same thing happens when a person is recovering from a stroke.

Katz recommends neurobic exercises such as getting dressed with your eyes closed, eating with the opposite hand, brushing your teeth with the opposite hand and shopping at a new grocery store. He claims that these exercises can activate underused nerve pathways and help achieve a fit and flexible mind.

However Brown said the benefits of such exercises will be scarcely noticeable.

“The average person won’t be able to access the change,” Brown said. “You may believe there is a difference but this purely may be a mental observation not measurable observation.”

In other words it may all be in your head.

Contact Radhiya Teagle at ra2fl@aol.com