When it comes to the the relationship between exercise, learning, and neurogenesis, there are three things that I’m aware of:
- Neuromuscular training and muscle recruitment. Your brain is responsible for everything that your body does that has a nerve ending. Nearly every move you make is controlled by your brain. Aerobic activity engages and requires coordination on a quick scale of large parts of your body. For running, for example, your brain is coordinating leg movements (upper leg, lower leg, feet), with core movements and stability, with arm movements, all while regulating your breathing and an increased heart rate. All of that activity triggers neurogenesis (creation of new nerve cells) in the hippocampus, one of the parts of your brain responsible for locomotion. It’s also in charge of memory and stress management.
- Oxygen and blood. Aerobic activity gets your heart pumping and your lungs breathing harder. This happens because aerobic activity increases your body’s immediate energy needs. Because of this, your heart circulates blood faster to get nutrients to your cells and your lungs pull in new oxygen (and get rid of spent CO2) to power the energy conversion process from sugar to ATP. This means that your brain also gets a heavy dose of increased blood flow and oxygen. When this happens your body recognizes a need for more bandwidth in the blood system and more capillaries will form over time. This happens all over your body, particularly in your muscles from aerobic activity, but it does happen in your brain as well allowing your brain to get more energy creating oxygen to all its cells easier.
- Hormones. Aerobic activity also causes your brain to release endorphins, which have a stress reduction effect. Chronic stress can cause neurological issues.
While it’s always best to remove the cause of the stress, exercising can help get your brain in a good gear to take care of the stresses of your life at the same time.