While we know that there are dozens of benefits to exercising, one of the most fascinating is how it can impact your brain. Once we become mothers and even during pregnancy, we quickly realize that “mom brain” is a real thing! The forgetfulness and loss of train of thought can be common for many moms for months and years after pregnancy. Fortunately, research does show that there are beneficial changes to the brain after pregnancy. It increases the prefrontal cortex which controls planning, learning and emotional regulation. This makes total sense because once children arrive, we need to devote new energy to keeping them alive!
It is important to understand how we can use exercise as a tool for helping our brains function better, especially after the significant physiological, mental and emotional changes brought on by motherhood.
This post will not go into depth about the benefits exercise has on the brains of mom and baby during pregnancy. Please know that there is strong evidence showing that babies whose mothers exercise regularly during pregnancy have brains that develop more rapidly. I will share more about this in future posts.
When I lead group exercise classes, especially those involving choreography, I like to tell my students that their brains are getting so much stronger and smarter because they are challenging themselves to move to a beat and follow quickly changing directions. While choreography can be frustrating, it is good for us to struggle a bit. It means our brain is improving it’s neuroplasticity. It helps us be more physically AND mentally resilient.
Neuroplasticity and Depression
According to a recent study in Germany, exercise simultaneously lifts mood and boosts neuroplasticity which is the brain’s ability to change. Neuroplasticity helps us adapt to challenges and learn new processes. Hello! We need this ALL THE TIME as parents. (See references at bottom to view full studies. One finding was that after physical activity intervention, subjects had both an increase in neuroplasticity and a decline in depressive symptoms. A WIN-WIN!)
4 Ways that Exercise Benefits Your Brain
1. It Decreases Feelings of Anxiety
2. It Improves Your Focus and Concentration
3. It Promotes the Growth of New Brain Cells
4. It Protects Your Brain from Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases
I like how the neuroscientist who explained these benefits compares exercise to a supercharged 401K for your brain, but it’s even better because it’s free.
This statement relates to the biggest point I will keep driving home: exercise/physical activity/movement is one of the best medicines that comes with almost only positive side effects. Along with nutrition, sleep and stress management, it is the main contributor to our health, which many believe is our greatest wealth. It is accessible to anyone at anytime as long as we open our minds to the possibilities!
Just make that small step today to see how exercise can help you feel more clear, less anxious, uplifted in your mood, more focused, and better able to adapt to the many changes and challenges that come your way as a parent. Before you come up with an excuse for not exercising, ask yourself, “Can I really afford to NOT exercise.” For the sake of improving mom brain alone, I would argue that it’s worth it….and you surely are worth it!
Speaking of the brain…
Treat it to the benefits of mindfulness through this guided meditation I’ve written and recorded called “Kindness For Parents Meditation.”
If you are ready for action and would like support, that’s what I’m here for. I specialize in corrective exercise and in coaching people, especially moms, in creating a wellness vision and moving forward with effective goals that help them feel their best every day. Please reach out to me, and let’s get started together.
Before you Go…
How about experiencing the brain benefits of exercise right away through moving your body energetically to music (aka dancing!?) If you are a fan of athletic style dancing to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, you will enjoy this Fit Mom Moment (and so will your brain!) Click play below.
Brüchle, W., et al. 2021. Physical activity reduces clinical symptoms and restores neuroplasticity in major depression. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.660642.
Ruhr-University Bochum. 2021. Physical activity jolts brain into action in the event of depression. ScienceDaily, Aug. 4. sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/08/210804123610.htm.