Weight management, heart health, muscle and joint health—these are the things that likely come to mind when you think about the benefits of exercise. But what if we looked beyond the physical advantages to those that impact our mental and emotional well-being?
While physical activity is commonly thought of as a way to keep your body in good shape, there is evidence it may also benefit your brain. Researchers at UC Davis asked a group of healthy, normal-weight participants to pedal on a stationary bike for up to 20 minutes at a time in order to reach 85 percent of their maximum heart rate. Those in a smaller control group remained seated on the bikes and did not pedal.
Based on brain scans taken during the exercise sessions, researchers determined that the vigorous activity led to an increase in the levels of certain brain chemicals—specifically the neurotransmitters glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which are linked to mood and emotion as well as memory.
The team at UC Davis believes their findings may benefit individuals suffering from mild to moderate depression, in part because lower levels of glutamate are often seen in depressed patients. They plan to continue studying the connection between brain chemicals and exercise.