Distance runners have long known, and science has proven, that there’s a literal high that comes from the endorphin buzz after a workout. It happens when nature’s opiates flood the brain and bring with them a flood of good feelings.

What wasn’t known until recently: Any regular exercise can improve brain function and reduce stress. This point appears to be true for men and women, adults and children.

Recent research shows that younger adult brains benefit from exercise, though it’s unclear why. One theory holds that the brain performs better because increased oxygen is available.

For all age groups, researchers believe that exercise acts as a fertilizer of sorts for the brain, increasing blood flow and helping brain cells better connect with each other.

While the more vigorous the activity the more improvement, you don’t have to run a marathon to enjoy the benefits of exercise. As few as 20 minutes of walking can help, too. Studies have proven that in addition to increasing your overall mood, walking can stimulate your creativity as well. However, before you rush off to the treadmill at your local fitness center, let’s clarify something here: Go outside. You don’t need to lose yourself in the lush forests of the nearest national park to see the benefits of walking outdoors. Take a walk around the block at your office or in your neighborhood. The main thing is that you are not just active, but actively engaging in openness, rather than walking in place while staring at a flat-screen TV. That’s not to say you need to completely unplug.

On the contrary, enjoying some music or listening to your favorite podcast can help pass the time and make the whole experience more enjoyable. Going outdoors for just 10-15 minutes can give you the boost you need, and a nice dose of vitamin D doesn’t hurt either.

Everybody Has Time for Exercise

Given the wealth of information dating back almost a decade, it’s a little surprising that more of us don’t meet the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate activity.

One of the top reasons cited for not exercising is lack of time. While there’s some validity to that, particularly for time-crunched college students, it’s also possible to apply the same multi-tasking skills to working out that work in other areas of your life.

Start small. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or park your car a little farther from the building than you normally would.

Look for ways to add physical activity to sedentary time. Keep a resistance band, jump rope, or barbells by the couch and use them while you’re watching your favorite show. Move an exercise bike in front of the TV, or vice versa, to enjoy greater aerobic benefits.

Make Exercise Fun

Other non-exercisers avoid regular activity because it just isn’t enjoyable. The mere idea of working out summons childhood memories of being the last kid picked for any team.

In these situations, reframing your definition of “exercise” can help. It need not involve throwing a ball, running a race, or competing in any way. In fact, many physical activities can be downright fun.

Take a hike or ride a bike, invest in a mini-trampoline, get together with friends for a round of laser tag, play a video game such as “Just Dance” alone or with the family.

Though it can be challenging to fit working out into a chaotic college schedule, those who find a way will enjoy a boost in brain function and a reduction in stress. Those benefits alone make exercise worth the time it takes.


Written by University Staff

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