Why Your Brain Becomes More Flexible After Working Out

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Squeezing a half-hour workout into your day is like casting a highly beneficial spell on yourself, in so many ways — from living longer to thinking faster. As neuroscience digs into fitness, clues are coming out as to how moving your body boosts your brain.

Over at PsyPost, Eric Dolan highlighted a new study in Experimental Brain Research. Lead by University of New Zealand neuroscientist Ronan Mooney, the research team recruited ten young adults, asking the participants to do 30 minutes of moderate cycling (or not, for the control condition).

They found that immediately after the workout — done at about 60 percent of the participants’ max — the motor cortex had less of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a neurotransmitter that inhibits activity in the brain. This looks to be a mechanism at work for how aerobic exercise promotes neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to reshape itself.

This process “may enhance early acquisition and consolidation of skills, leading to improved motor memory and performance,” the authors write. This means that a workout could prime stroke victims for more effective physical therapy, allowing them to more quickly recoordinate their limbs — because memory isn’t just mental, but physical.

Why Your Brain Becomes More Flexible After Working Out