by Kelly Brown
We all know exercising is good for our bodies. It increases stamina, muscle mass and helps fight preventative lifestyle disease. And you probably know that working out releases endorphins in your brain — you know, those oh-so-pleasing hormones that make us feel good. But there’s more! Here’s an in-depth look at what’s actually happening to your body during exercise.
Fight or Flight
When you begin exercising, your brain recognizes your elevated heart rate as a stress response. This triggers your brain to transition into fight or flight mode. Think about our ancestors: Their elevated heart rates were likely due to running from something, hunting and chasing down their next meal, or fighting off enemies and animals. When our body transitions into this fight or flight mode the brain releases a chemical called BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). This BDNF has a protective and reparative element to your memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. That’s why you might have such a clear head after a great workout and seek exercise to forget about your worries and daily troubles.
All that blood pumping through your body is working wonders for your brain when it comes time to study for your next exam or prepare for a big meeting. The blood cells rushing to your brain and increased oxygen can sharpen focus for up to 10 minutes after exercise. Why not take your textbook with you to the gym?
When you exercise, your body sends voluntary messages for your muscles to flex, extend, press and hold you throughout your entire routine. This movement creates body heat and expends energy. This energy is stored throughout the body in ATP (Adenine Nucleotide Bonds) and the process of breaking these bonds down releases potential energy in the muscles so you can keep moving. All of this (along with a balanced diet) helps you grow stronger and while keeping you at a healthy weight.
As your muscles work and your heart pumps harder, your breathing rate increases to meet your body’s necessary need for oxygen. Improving cardio-respiratory function through exercise means the body can efficiently distribute and consume oxygen for future workouts and daily activities. This means if you’re having trouble taking a walk around the block without breathing heavily, it’s time to step onto the treadmill, ride your bike or do some short interval training to help you move better day-to-day.
Exercise has a direct effect on the glands of the body that produce your hormones. Some of the glands affected are the thyroid, adrenal glands and kidneys, all of which benefit from increased activity and fresh oxygen circulating through the body due to exercise. The most impacted by exercise is the pituitary gland. When stimulated, the pituitary releases the human growth hormone that initiates the regeneration of bones, muscles and connective tissues throughout the body. The best way to keep the production of HGH is to stimulate this gland through regular exercise.