We all know that exercise makes us feel better,
but most of us have no idea why. We assume it’s because we’re burning off stress
or boosting endorphins. But the real reason we feel so good when we
exercise is that it makes the brain function at its best. And in my opinion this benefit is far more
important than what it does for the body. Building muscles, conditioning the heart and
lungs are essentially side effects. The real point of exercise is to build and
condition the brain. In today’s technology-driven, plasma-screened
world, it’s easy to forget that we were born to move. Nowadays we spend most of our time sitting
behind a desk or lying on the couch, and we have basically removed movement from our lives. This has become a norm in the past century,
but we must remember that didn’t evolve for this type of sedentary lifestyle, we evolved
as hunter-gatherers. Our ancestors had to walk five to ten miles
on an average day, just to be able to eat. Since it takes tens of thousands of years
for our biology to evolve, you can see there’s a huge mismatch between our lifestyle and
our genes. Today we no longer hunt and gather and not
only is that a problem, but it poses one of the biggest threats to our continued survival. 65 percent of America’s adults are overweight
or obese, and 10 percent of the population has type 2 diabetes, a preventable disease
that stems from inactivity and poor nutrition. We’re literally killing ourselves, and it’s
a problem throughout the developed world. What’s even more disturbing is that inactivity
is killing our brains, as well as physically shrinking them. Now you might be thinking, why would our brain
shrink if we don’t move as much. What we really need to ask ourselves, is why
do we need a brain at all. You might say that we have brains to come
up with ideas or to analyze different situations. But the answer is that only a mobile creature
needs a brain. The brain’s main purpose is to perform complex
motor movements. For example a koala used to have a much bigger
brain than it does now. However once it evolved its digestive system
to survive on just eucalyptus leaves, it meant that less movement was required. Fewer complex movements, also meant less brain
was needed, so the koala’s brain physically shrunk. This is important information, because guess
who’s running the show. Your brain. The brain isn’t a fixed organ that cannot
be changed. It’s adaptable and it can increase in size
like any other muscle on your body. Or in the koala’s case, decrease in size. So guess what turns out to be the best thing
you can do for you brain today. That’s right, physical exercise. Particularly high intensity aerobic exercise. Going to the gym and lifting weights every
10 minutes, like many powerlifters do, doesn’t seem to have such a powerful impact, as high
intensity exercise does. Powerlifting still benefits the brain, don’t
get me wrong, but to reap all the benefits, you need to get your heart rate, up to 80%
of its maximum beats per minute. So what exactly are those brain benefits I
speak of? Well, besides preventing your brain from shrinking
you can expect an improved ability to learn and absorb new information. It’s been shown that students with higher
fitness scores also have higher test scores. Exercise also decreases depression and relieves
stress. It even helps prevent cognitive decline and
Alzheimer’s disease. If you’re a woman, you can expect less mood
swings. If exercise came in a pill form, it would
be hailed as the drug of the century. However it sadly doesn’t have such powerful
marketing as some prescription pills do. Plus you have to put in the effort and that’s
not quite as appealing. But it’s simply one of the best treatments
we have for a lot of psychiatric problems. Dr John Ratey, the author of the book “Spark”
says that exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin. For those who don’t know Prozac is an antidepressant
and Ritalin is used for treating patients with ADHD. It’s already well known that exercise increases
levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. All are important neurotransmitters that affect
thoughts and emotions. The drugs that just increase neurotransmitters,
can leave you with many side effects. But when you exercise, your brain will not
just increase the neurotransmitters, but it will also balance them. It’s no secret that some women get crazy mood
swings when it’s their time of the month. But really it’s not their fault, as their
hormones are out of balance. Exercise will help tone down the negative
consequences of hormonal changes and for others it will enhance the positive ones. But overall exercise has the most profound
effect on learning. Right now the front of your brain is firing
signals about what you’re reading and listening to, and how much of it you soak up has a lot
to do with whether there is a proper balance of neurochemicals and growth factors to bind
neurons together. If you had half an hour of exercise this morning,
you’re in the right frame of mind to sit still and focus on this video, and your brain is
far more equipped to remember more of it. A 2007 study found that people learn vocabulary
words 20 percent faster after they exercise, compared to when they remain sedentary. This is all thanks to a protein called Brain
Derived Neurotrophic Factor also know as BDNF. BDNF nourishes brain cells and makes them
grow. Just like a plant fertilizer supports plant
growth, BDNF acts as a brain fertilizer. A 2013 study showed that just 20 to 40 minutes
of aerobic exercise increased BDNF in the blood by 32%. This makes perfect sense in light of evolution. If we go back to our example of ancestors,
the only reason we need an ability to learn is for the sake of survival. Basically to find food and shelter, or to
remember which animals to avoid. Back in the day whenever we moved, it meant
something important was going on. We had to escape from a predator or remember
the path we took so we didn’t get lost. However when we were resting, it meant nothing
important was going on. We still have this ancient mechanism, so as
far as our brains are concerned, if we’re not moving, there’s no reason to learn or
remember anything. If you have an important exam coming up, you
might want to take a run in the park before hitting the books. The boost of BDNF will help you absorb and
retain more information. As I’ve mentioned before, exercise has the
ability reduce a lot of our problems. But even if you don’t have any issues and
you think you’re feeling great, there are still areas that can be improved. You can feel better than ever and learn faster
than ever. If you imagine for a moment your life as a
video game, you could consider exercise as a cheat code. But how can we get the best results with the
least amount of time invested? Like I said, high intensity aerobic exercise
is the best way to go. This involves running, jumping rope, anything
to get your heart rate up all the way to 80% of its maximum rate. It’s even better if the activity involves
some complex motor movements, and it’s not just putting one foot after the other. Good examples are tennis and dancing. Optimal daily dose of exercise seems to be
20 to 40 minutes in the morning. For some people the benefits last for the
whole day, but for the majority they seem to last about 2-4 hours. This is why it might be a better idea to break
it down in to smaller segments. So let’s say you do 20 minutes of your core
exercise in the morning and then exercise 2 times for 5 minutes throughout the day. This way you can extend the benefits. If you currently live a more sedentary lifestyle
it’s better to slowly build up to those times. 40 minutes is just a recommendation and not
a requirement. It’s up to you to find your optimal dose,
depending on your schedule and personal needs. All of this information about the brain and
exercise was found in John Ratey’s book “Spark”. If you enjoyed the video and would like to
learn more about this topic, you should check out the book. I highly recommend it and I’ve left a link
for you in the description. After reading this book I’ve realized how
important exercise really is, and not just for the body, but for the brain as well. This is why I’ve made exercise a core habit
in my routine. Now when I wake up I always go for a run or
use a jump rope to get my heart rate up and prime myself for the day. I feel more energy, less stress and I can
tackle more information with less strain. I hope this video inspires you to do the same
and you make exercise a core part of your daily life. Thanks for watching and don’t stop improving
until you’ve become better than yesterday.

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Dennis Veasley

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