How did you feel the last time you exercised? Simply glad you motivated and got off the couch? Or maybe you had that familiar sensation of pure—and good—exhaustion? It can be hard to start moving, but the benefits are irresistible. Most of us know how regular exercise improves our bodies. Turns out, it also makes us smart and happy.In his book, Spark, Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor and author Dr. John D. Ratey champions research that shows how exercise impacts the chemistry of our brains. The result: We can focus and think more flexibly—instantly. Those same chemical changes improve mood and alleviate the symptoms of depression.
good for your mind
The positive effects are staggering. One Illinois school made tremendous strides when it scheduled kids’ most challenging subjects immediately after gym class; the students’ performance far exceeded those who took the class later in the day. Most notable was the significant jump in students’ literacy rates. That’s no surprise, Ratey explains: “If you had half an hour of exercise this morning, you’re in the right frame of mind to focus on this paragraph, and your brain is far more equipped to remember it.”That’s because research has shown that exercise increases neurotransmitters, which are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brains and bodies. These chemicals help us focus on tasks and think creatively. They are the messengers of your nervous system. And you can feel them flowing immediately after you stop moving. You are brighter.
good for your mood
Neurotransmitters (or a lack of them) are also responsible for depression. The great news is that a growing body of research proves that moving can help. Not only does exercise improve our mood, it can help reverse depression. A landmark 1999 Duke University study revealed that regular exercise (walking or jogging three times a week) was as effective as the prescription drug, Zoloft, in treating depression.When you return from a run feeling better than when you began, you might think it’s because you’ve done good by your body, reason enough to be in a more positive place. In fact, it’s not just your imagination. You really are in a better mood. Exercise alters our brain chemistry, and it shifts how we feel.
good for you!
Ratey tells us that we can experience positive effects each time we exercise, and it doesn’t take an elaborate routine to feel better. So why not start small? The more you move, the more brain power you’ll have, and the happier you will feel. Walk your kids to the bus stop, take the stairs, park at the far end of the parking lot, or even bike to work. Go on. Let your body outsmart your mind. May we all walk happily ever after.