Everyone knows that exercise and eating healthful foods help keep the brain happy. And happy brains are learning brains!
We’ve all heard of the runner’s high. Personally, I was never dedicated or enjoyed running enough to experience this sensation. But my kids loved running when they were younger. They got that “high”, or as some professionals call it, the “happy effect”.
So…what is the runner’s high?
It’s that feeling of oneness and bliss with the world that we get during strenuous exercise. This in turn creates chemicals and hormones in our brains which lead to mental health benefits. In essence, that chemical reaction in the chemistry set of our brains feels good…really good…when exercising.
Following is a list and explanation of the five major chemicals/hormones that are released during exercise:
Serotonin alters your mood for the better. People and children who are depressed have low levels of serotonin
Norepinephrine is both a brain chemical and a hormone. Norepinephrine flows into the bloodstream during exercise and helps with long term memory retrieval. It also keeps us alert and focused.
The most important chemical of all might be BDNF, which stands for Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor. It fosters long term brain health and acts as a growth factor to promote the formation of new connections between nerve cells, or neurons. It will also repair damaged nerve cells.
Dopamine is the “motivation” and “reward” brain chemical. This chemical helps us feel motivated and ready to tackle our day’s events. It gives us the motivation to achieve something of value and in return, feel rewarded. It’s dopamine that gives us the motivation to achieve. Once again, depressed people show low levels of dopamine.
Endorphins are the main brain chemical responsible for the runner’s high. Some researchers believe other brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine play a role too. Endorphins also help us relieve pain.
A Quick Explanation of the Happiness Effect
Infographic created by Health Central.
As I look at this list, I see children with learning disabilities (and others, too) being chained to a desk all day (not literally) when they need to get up and move to release important brain chemicals and hormones.
Have you ever noticed how depressed people don’t want to move? Yet, it’s the thing they need most. To top it off, children with learning disabilities have a high percentage of getting depression or suffer from other mental disabilities. These are all too often the kids who don’t finish their work or act up in class. Their punishment? Usually they miss recess or are held after school for detention. It’s a vicious cycle, not to mention the health risks of childhood obesity caused by the lack of physical activity.
Learning disabilities are at an epidemic level, and nobody seems to care. We can do better, starting with letting our kids move throughout the day so their brain’s chemistry set is functioning properly.