A common reference most people know about exercise is the ability to produce endorphins. Endorphins-the body’s natural “pain killers”- provide that simple satisfaction of a job well done and energy well spent.
Though common knowledge often gets shared so frequently, it begins to go unnoticed. The simple fact that moving the body improves the mind has a very important implication. The act of physical exercise directly influences the mind at the cellular level and is linked to strengthening the brain’s own flexibility and longevity.
Using your muscles
In a wonderfully simple sense, the brain is much like a muscle. It learns from experience; the more it’s used, the more it grows (El Sayes et. al., 2019 pp 72). When working the body muscle fiber breaks down and rebuilds making the muscle stronger. The brain builds and maintains its neural connections in much the same way.
Recent work published in the Journal Neuroscientist reinforces these similarities, and definitively states that “a single session of aerobic exercise alters brain function” and “ resistance training can also induce structural and functional changes in the brain…and alter cortical excitability” ( El Sayes et. al, 2019 pp 74-76).
Aerobic exercise is some of the simplest forms of exercise that most anyone can easily engage in. If something so simple can have an impact, then athletes who engage in more complex movements could increase their neural response. When the body moves, the mind does too, improving an individual across the complete physiological spectrum.
Connecting the dots
The awesome connection between the body and the brain is something that is timeless. The best example is in our very own babies. Children experience their world through play and movement because it stimulates their minds and builds neural pathways. In their formative years, adolescents and young adults go through a period of “mental pruning” to improve cognitive efficiency.
The tight connection between mental capacity and physical capacity carries through our lives. To preserve our health, “Exercise-induced molecular and cellular changes are fundamental to inducing changes in brain structure” ( El Sayes et. al, 2019 pp 74-76). Adults seeking to protect their longevity can improve through one action: stimulating and working their body. Movement, at any output or level of complexity shields both body and mind.
Exercising the mind
CrossFit’s goal to be constantly varied and modifiable really suits the act of building a stronger mind. Sometimes, coaches refer to this mental stimulation as mental toughness or the mind-body connection.The movements of the body physically alter the brain resulting in a mind that is both stronger and more elastic. Movement at every stage results
El-Sayes, J., Harasym, D., Turco, C., Locke, M., & Nelson, A. (2018). Exercise-induced neuroplasticity: A mechanistic model and prospects for promoting plasticity. The Neuroscientist, 25(1), 65–85. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858418771538