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Surprising Ways Exercise Changes the Brain

By Sandy Schroeder

Intuitively, most of us know that the morning walk or that late afternoon jog is much more than just putting one foot in front of the other to stay slim and healthy.

The Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley explains how many more surprising things exercise can do for our brain. The scientists say "Moving your body is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your mind." They maintain people around the globe are happier and more grounded in their communities when they get out there and start moving.

Take your choice. Walk, run, swim, bike, dance, join a team, practice yoga or tai chi, or go to the gym and lift weights. Whatever you choose, the folks at Greater Good say the brain benefits in surprising ways such as these.

The capacity for joy expands - The scientists say exercise creates a low jolt to the brain's reward centers increasing the awareness of pleasure, hope and motivation. Gradually exercise can change the whole dopamine receptor system, lowering depression and expanding joy. 

This can be a useful way to help people dealing with substance abuse, which lowers dopamine levels and leaves them depressed, angry and unable to connect with others. I have seen people, who were severely depressed and dealing with drugs, move forward when exercise was coupled with therapy. This can also work for seniors who are losing their capacity for joy. Short daily walks, swims or stationary bike sessions awake their ability to enjoy life and connect with the world again.

Connections improve - Exercise "highs" put an individual in a great position to connect with others. That marvelous sense of peace that often comes from a successful run may enhance the pleasure that you feel when you reach out to others. They say spouses who exercise together find it helps them stay closer.  Some families even joke about sending someone out for a walk when they are cranky because they know they will come back in a better mood.

The ability to be brave grows - Exercise improves the neural connections in the area of the brain that calms anxiety. As exercise continues the default state of the nervous system becomes more level with less tendency to take fight, lash out and fight or flee in fright. 

I found these views of exercise and the brain to be fascinating and very true to what I had experienced without even realizing what was happening. Each time in my life when I have become immersed in a rewarding exercise program, everything else has gone much better. I get along better with those around me. I feel much more grounded, and my everyday experiences are much richer.  Think about your exercise experiences and see if it checks out.

To learn more about your health, wellness and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Mt. Juliet, Tenn.

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