When you hear the word exercise, does it make you jump for joy? Probably not.  Most people think of exercise as a chore, if they think of it at all! Although exercise may seem tedious, informing you about some of the benefits may just get you moving. I’m sure you’ve heard about the ways it can improve the cardiovascular system, and contribute to a healthy heart while also being great for weight loss, so I will not elaborate on those. I am going to share other benefits that may not be as common.

Almost everyone knows exercise can make you leaner and make the heart stronger, but did you know it can also make you smarter? That’s right! A study done on high school students who exercised before school at 80% – 90% of their max heart rate by running 1 mile, tracked with heart rate monitors showed a 17% improvement in reading comprehension! This is compared to a 10% increase among those who did not exercise before school. In addition to improved reading comprehension, the students who exercised before school also reported feeling more awake throughout the day and less cranky.

When exercising, if you exceed a heart rate of about 70% of your max heart rate for at least 40 minutes, your brain produces a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).  BDNF is referred to as “miracle-grow” for your brain!  It is made when brain cells are active and the best way to increase BDNF levels is through exercise. BDNF protects your brain cells from stress and erosion (which happens with age).  It also produces more capillaries in the brain which carry more oxygen and reduces inflammation to brain cells. It is also worth mentioning that exercise causes your body to produce more neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These help regulate stress, anxiety and depression. This is what people feel when they refer to the “runners high”.

Further, exercise protects against aging.  Starting around age 40, we lose about 5% of our overall brain volume per decade! If your brain isn’t actively growing, then it is dying.  Exercise is one of the few ways to counter the process of aging, because it slows down the natural decline.  When you exercise it increases blood volume, regulates the fuel your body uses, and encourages brain neuron activity.  Basically, exercising on a regular basis sparks connectivity and growth among your brain cells.

With all this great information about the benefits of exercise, I want to challenge you to get up and get moving! What better way to do that than to start training for Canopy’s 5K4Kids?  There is about a month left to get ready and that’s just enough time to start enjoying some of the benefits of exercise! All you have to do is start!

 – Shea Hutchins, Canopy’s Chief Solutions Officer