The Effects of Exercise on Brain, Body and Hormones
By Dr. Erik Fleischman –
People experience different feelings after exercise. Exhaustion, elation, mental clarity, euphoria and calm are just a few of the sensations people report after a good, strenuous exercise session. These feelings ultimately come from healthy hormonal reaction and stimulation from exercise and they are good for the body and the brain.
Let’s break down the feelings to the hormone changes to better understand the tremendous benefits of exercise to brain and body.
First, let’s define the exercise we are talking about. There are actually different hormonal changes to aerobic exercise and high intensity strength exercise, but for the sake of this blog, let’s consider this.
- Minimum of 45 minutes of combined aerobic and strength exercise
- 3-5 times per week
- Greater intensity of exercise gives greater benefits
Brain: Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)
This important brain peptide is also known as Somatotropin. It is also known in Regenerative Medicine as the closest thing the human body has to the Fountain of Youth.
Human Growth Hormone is secreted by the Pituitary Gland, the small area of the brain responsible for regulation of nearly every important hormone in the body. In children, this hormone is quite high and results in normal growth and development.
HGH is elevated by a few behaviors such as sleep and fasting, but can be elevated by high intensity exercise. As people age, this hormone declines but has some very important tasks:
- Increases calcium retention and creates stronger bones
- Increases muscle mass
- Helps to cut fat (lipolysis)
- Increased protein synthesis
- Stimulates the growth and regeneration of ALL the organs in the body except the brain
- Stimulates the immune system for greater immune strength
Another important point is that higher HGH levels are scientifically associated with lower rates of depression and with a greater sense of Quality of Life. It also increases and is important in order to have good cognitive function.
Body and Brain: Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1)
Body and Brain: Testosterone
Testosterone is a sex hormone that is important to both men and women. Most people think of Testosterone as a hormone that is important for male virility and sex drive, but it does much more than that.
Testosterone is a key player in:
- Increased lean muscle mass and strength
- Bone strength and bone density in men and women
- Important brain functioning – testosterone can improve verbal memory, spatial ability and mathematical reasoning
- Men with higher testosterone levels have a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease
- Increased energy levels
- General sense of Well-Being
Exercising the larger muscles results in higher Testosterone levels. These would be most effective by exercising the thigh and back muscles.
Testosterone can also increase the red blood cell count in men and women. This results in more oxygen being delivered to vital organs like the brain and the heart.
There are some studies that show Testosterone replacement can lower the incidence of heart attack and stroke in men and women who have lost their ability to produce the hormone in menopause and andropause (this is the term for male menopause/Testosterone loss).
Exercise is just one of the key behaviors we can use to fight aging and loss of healthy brain and body function. I tell my patients to think about exercise the same way they would consider their Hypertension or Diabetic medicine – as essential to a long, healthy, high quality life. Except exercise is free and more effective in disease prevention.
Exercise should be mixed with a good diet. Diet choices can be confusing so in general I suggest that the lower the carbohydrate/sugar intake, the better the diet.
Sugar and carbohydrate excess use has now been scientifically directly implicated in the cause and progression of Alzheimer’s Disease. In medical literature now we are even referring to Alzheimer’s Disease as Type-3 Diabetes or Diabetes of the Brain.
It wasn’t discussed in this blog, but exercise is also one of the best ways to treat and avoid Diabetes. Exercise causes the muscles to take up the extra sugar floating around in the veins quite effectively.
If your goals are:
- Good health
- Sex drive
- And everything that creates a quality and enjoyable life at any age.