Studies have shown a strong relationship between the health of the body and the health of the brain. Exercise revs up complex processes inside the brain that can deter depression, help you stay calm and keep your mind sharp.
Exercise Boosts Mental Fitness
The brain has approximately 86 billion neurons designed to give orders to the rest of the body through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Studies show that deficiencies of two of these neurotransmitters (glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA), can lead to mood disorders such as depression. However, moderate exercise can increase the amounts of the two neurotransmitters, contributing to increased mental fitness.
Exercise Decreases Stress
When you’re stressed, your brain secretes the “fight or flight” hormone, cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels can create a constant and unnecessary feeling of stress. But, if you exercise, you expose your body to “controlled stress,” which helps regulate your brain’s stress response, keeping you calmer.
Exercise Slows the Brain’s Aging Process
Your brain ages just like the rest of your body, but exercise can help the brain handle natural, age-related deterioration without taking a toll on your memory. Older adults who exercise have larger brain volumes than those who don’t. Plus, the brain’s hippocampus (which is responsible for memory and learning) is larger in people who are active. Exercising won’t make you smarter, per se, but it will help you remember things better as you age.
Most people are familiar with the risks of unprotected sun exposure, such as sunburn, wrinkles, freckles, eye damage and skin cancer.
However, although overexposure to the sun is bad for your health, getting enough exposure to sunlight is necessary and beneficial. Adequate time in the sun gives you several benefits:
A boost in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your appetite, sleep, memory and mood
Support of your circadian rhythm, which leads to better sleep—sunlight “turns off” melatonin production each morning, which is the hormone that makes you feel drowsy as it gets darker at night
Production of Vitamin D, which is needed for important body functions such as strengthening your bones and contributing to your immune system
Relief of stress and pain, and help for individuals suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression
Lowered risk for nearsightedness—research indicates that children who spend more time exposed to sunshine outside may reduce their risk of becoming nearsighted
The key to reaping the health benefits of sunlight while avoiding the risks is balance and moderation. The U.S. National Institutes of Health recommend about 10 to 15 minutes in the sun without sunscreen. The time of day and your skin pigmentation will affect how much unprotected time in the sun is healthiest for you.
It’s especially important to wear sunscreen or limit direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest. And while you’re out enjoying the sunshine, don’t forget UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Yoga is a mind and body practice with origins in ancient Indian philosophy. Like other meditative movement practices used for health purposes, various styles of yoga typically combine physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation or relaxation. In the United States, yoga is the sixth-most commonly used complementary health practice, according to a 2007 National Health Interview Survey, and is generally considered safe for most healthy people when practiced under the guidance of a trained instructor. In addition to being a fun and relaxing pastime, yoga has been linked to the following:
A number of studies have shown that yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety, and people who practice yoga regularly frequently self-report they are sleeping better and experiencing lower levels of stress. Yoga practice has been demonstrated to reduce the levels of cortisol—the stress hormone. Most yoga classes end with a savasana, or relaxation pose.
Practicing yoga can lead to improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength. These gains mean practitioners are less likely to injure themselves performing other physical tasks.
Management of pain and chronic conditions
If you’re already injured or suffering from chronic illness, research shows that yoga postures, meditation or a combination of the two can reduce pain for people who have cancer, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune diseases, hypertension, arthritis, back and neck pain and other chronic conditions. Yoga can also help reduce risk factors for developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure.