8 Ways Exercising Improves Our Brain Chemistry


This article was brought to you by ICE NYC and Kettlebells 4 Autism who have teamed up for a partner fundraiser and workout on April 29th at ICE NYC 59th Street. All the proceeds will go to  @nycautismcharter - the only public charter school in NY designed for children with autism. To sign up for the even, click HERE.

Whether you’re hitting the gym, walking the sidewalks of New York on scorching day, or preparing for a WOD you may notice that your mood improves as soon as you get moving. While athletes and wellness-junkies have noticed the positive effect of working out on their minds, bodies, and souls, certain charities and organizations in particular have taken note of the transformative nature of exercise. One organization in particular, Kettlebells 4 Autism was created to bring together sport with charity because exercise and sweat-inducing activities like CrossFit and HAIL, improve our moods, increase feelings of community, put us in the giving mood, and more.

Kettlebells 4 Autism was formed with the intention of using kettlebell training and sport as a platform to raise awareness about autism, and to raise funds for not-for-profit organizations supporting autism research and treatment. The organization, launched in February of 2013 has raised over $150,000 since its conception, so it’s clear that their method of combining autism awareness and sweating is helping them reach their goals.

At ICE NYC, we decided to dig in and see why working out puts us in a charitable mood as we prepare for a fundraiser and workout with Kettlebells for Autism happening on Saturday April 29th,  Turns out, a lot of research has been done that proves that sweating changes our mind AND our bodies. Check out what we learned below:

1. Increases Feelings of Happiness.

Maybe you’ve already noticed: you walk into the gym feeling crabby and ten minutes into your sweat-sesh you're giving your workout-pals high fives and winking at your swolemate like your boss hadn’t spent the lunch-hour mouthing-off at you. There may be a scientific reason for this improvement in food; one study from the University of Vermont found that just 20 minutes of exercise can boost our moods for a full 12 hours. How is that possible? Exercise boosts our moods in a number of different ways, including increasing the levels of the mood-related neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenalin as well as the neurohormone endorphin, a natural version of morphine produced by the brain (which is the brain-chemical associated with “runner's high”). The takeaway? The next time you feel yourself becoming short, come on into ICE NYC and we’ll cheer you right up!

2. Controls Stress Hormones.

Research out of Harvard Medical School showed that aerobic exercise helps curb stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, while also rushing our systems with endorphins that calm us down (such as serotonin and dopamine). Increased levels of serotonin in our brain decreases the likelihood that we will lose our temper, experience feelings of aggressive, or unleash a sour mood. According to The Mayo Clinic, after an aerobic activity, athletes often find that they have forgotten the day's irritations by concentrating only on their bodies movements.

3. Helps Treat Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, regular exercise has been found to help with various anxiety disorders, including panic disorder and OCD. Additionally, studies have found that people are less likely to relapse after recovering from depression if they exercise three times a week or more. While more research needs to be done to conclude whether or not exercising can actually prevent depression, Doctors are actively prescribing phsycial activitty and movement to patients as part of a course of treatment.

4. Helps Builds Community.

Fitness-focused people seem to be happier than most (probably due to the abundant endorphins), and happy people tend to be drawn to each other. Working out with others as a ton of benefits, check out 6 Reasons You Should Work And Workout In Community-Based Spaces to learn more about the community buildling aspect of fitness.

5. Increases Energy.

It may seem counterintuitive, but researchers say expending energy by engaging in regular exercise may pay off with increased energy in the long run. Between 1945 to 2005, 12 different studies measured the amount of physical activity that participants were doing and how much energy or fatigue the participants experienced. All of the studies found a direct link between a reduced risk of fatigue for people who were physically active compared to those who were inactive.

How is that possible? According to a study from the University of Georgia, the blood flow benefits from exercise help carry oxygen and nutrients to muscles, which helps them produce more energy.  The researchers found that even 20 minutes of low to moderate exercise 3 days a week can help combat exhaustion and fatigue.

6. Improves Creativity.

Not only is working out good for our brains, it can literally help our brains grow (that’s right, growth! Of the brain!). Studies show that exercise can enhance the growth of new blood vessels in the brain through a process called “angiogenesis”. Because the brain is the number one consumer of oxygen in the body, the more blood vessels in the brain, the more oxygen available to better help us do anything: thinking, seeing, feeling, moving and even creating. The same reason that exercising improves creatigin is the same reason it increases energy (see above). Plus, there’s a reason Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have been known to hold “walking” meetings. Science literally shows that creative thinking improves when a person is moving.  

7. Improves Sleep!

Not only does exericing increase energy during the day, but one study of 2,600 subjects, people who exercised at least 150 minutes a week reported a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. Nothing sets us up for a day of success quite like a good good night sleep, and a workout practically guarantees that you’ll hit the mattress ready to snooze. More snooze= more energy (It’s all cyclical! Good feelings enourage more good feelings!).

8. Increases Pleasure.

The neurotransmitter dopamine has been is associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. Studies show that not only is dopamine released in the brain when we fall in love, or win a jackpot … it is released when we exercise (Yep, sweating is THAT powerful). Moreover, exercise increases the pleasure we feel when we look at ourselves. When we exercise, we feel better, we look better, we get stronger, we feel a sense of accomplishment, and that rush of endorphins has a ripple effect on everything we do. Plus, the better we feel, the more empowered, confident, and giving we feel. Win-win-win!

Remember, if you want to experience any of the 8 benefits listed above, come to ICE NYC 59th street on Saturday April 29th at 12:30pm for a workout and fundraiser brought to you by Kettlebells 4 Autism. To sign up for the event click HERE.

Author Bio: Gabrielle Kassel is a New York based writer who has a deep affinity for weight-lifting, living mindfully, and the em-dash. She has been published at Women’s Health Magazine where she worked on the online editorial team, Feather Magazine where she was a contributing health writer, and ICE NYC where she works as the social media editor. In her free time she can be found reading self-help books, making soup, and practicing hygge.
IG: @gk.fitness