You want the rippling abs and the bulging biceps, but a better body isn’t the only reason to hit the gym. It turns out that your brain needs a fitness regimen just as much as your quads do, because the benefits of exercise are much bigger than avoiding a dad bod.
Just what are we talking about here? Well, for starters, regular workouts can help stave off the cognitive decline the occurs with aging. Scientists have found that exercise can help generate new brain cells, even in adults. Much of that new growth is in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for long-term memories and spatial navigation. It naturally shrinks with age, leading to dementia, but a study found that exercise may be able to increase the size of your hippocampus by as much as 2%.
Regular exercise can also help you maintain a Buddha-worthy state of zen. Workouts cause the brain to release endorphins, which produce a feeling of euphoria similar to morphine. When you feel good both mentally and physically, your mood stabilises and stress melts away.
Exercise can even help you master new skills – beyond how to swing a kettlebell around without throwing out your back. Researchers have found that just five months of regular physical exertion lead to increased blood flow to the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for memory, thoughts and perceptions. That, in turn, can lead to significant improvements in how quickly you can acquire new skills.
Now would be a good time to resurrect those New Year’s resolutions.