Exercise improves memory, exercise makes you happy, exercise relaxes – from the positive effects that exercise has on the brain or psyche. But: Many explanations are inaccurate or incorrect. What is really true Neuroscientist and movement scientist Prof. Stefan Schneider from the German Sport University Cologne explains it.

What happens in the brain during sports? Sport primarily activates the motor cortex, a region in the middle of our brain: “Specific areas within this area are directly connected to the muscles via nerve pathways and then specifically address the muscles that are currently needed. This is the same for every sport, regardless of whether it is endurance sport or muscle training. The right coordination comes about because the corresponding muscles are addressed at the right moment and above all with the right intensity by the motor cortex and then tensed, ”explains Schneider.

The more we practice something, the stronger the commands from the brain and the better we are in a certain movement. But why does sport make us happy? Because exercise alone does not release happiness hormones.

The expert: “The fact that we feel better during or after sport comes from the fact that physical activity primarily requires the movement center and other areas, for example those responsible for problem solving, learning, etc., are deactivated.”  Grübel thoughts are switched off during sport. Very activating feelings like anger or the feeling of stress are channeled during sport. Because: “Adrenaline, noradrenaline and also cortisol, the substances that our bodies release when stressed, are used in a targeted manner in sport.”

In addition, sport has a so-called psycho-hygienic effect under stress and overstimulation, the expert knows: “Thoughts come to rest. The cognitive areas can regenerate. ”An effect that can provide the most real relaxation in our modern age.

Sport can also help with sadness and depression: “Exercise is also used in therapy, but depression also brings with it a great lack of motivation. It is therefore not easy for those affected to start sport at all. But once you do it, exercise is really a very effective tool, ”said Schneider.

When does Runners High occur?

Everything becomes easy, the body works by itself, and we feel incredibly good during intensive training! This phenomenon occurs when the body produces so-called endorphins or endocannabinoids. When does that happen?  The expert: “When we hit a certain load limit. These substances, which are actually very similar to those contained in cannabis, are poured out to relieve pain. ” Runners High is in itself a great facility in nature and is not unhealthy per se. But be careful, if you experience it, you have already reached a certain limit. 

A Fitness running woman in winter season

The Runners High is a trick of the body to relieve the discomfort after long, intensive exertion and to maintain performance in extreme areas

If you have pain during exercise or after training, you should be careful and in any case visit a doctor to get to the bottom of it. A visit to the doctor provides certainty and support for the pain. Tip : Kinesiotaping often provides relief for aching muscles and tension. DAK-Gesundheit supports you with therapy.

How does sport help with learning ability?

Unfortunately, movement alone doesn’t make you smarter. Here, too, the key is an interaction: “Thinking, learning and solving problems work best when the areas of the brain responsible for it are rested. Because our brain has only limited resources available, the irrelevant areas are put into a standby mode during intensive physical work. After the sport, all resources are available again – similar to a computer that you shut down when overloaded. Then the energy can flow entirely into cognitive performance. “

And further: “There are also researchers who assume that certain growth hormones (the so-called neurotrophic factors) are formed more through exercise and then cross the blood-brain barrier. This has already been demonstrated in the animal experiment. Not yet on humans. In the brain, the substances cause new nerve cells to be formed or to network more closely with one another. So when knowledge is acquired after sport, the neurotrophic factors act as a fertilizer for our ability to learn, ”explains Schneider.

However, according to the expert, the fact that older people who exercise more also have a lower risk of developing dementia is due to another phenomenon: “The more active and agile people are in old age, the more sensory stimuli they collect. Those who go out, shop, do sports in the fresh air, meet people, see and experience new things. So the brain stays fit! “

The biggest sports brain misunderstandings

Sport is healthy, even for the head – that’s for sure. But there are also some myths …

Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, but it has no impact on cognitive performance. “If the blood circulation alone were decisive, school would take place in the headstand,” explains Schneider.

Another thing we must not forget:  sport is a burden. Even though we have to move much less these days, it is deeply stored in us that sporting activity robs us of energy; we instinctively try to avoid that. This is where the inner bastard comes from.

You don’t feel completely fit? Or do you want to get back into sport after a long break from training? Then a sports medical examination makes sense!

The most important rule in order to keep the pleasure of sport: It has to be fun! Those who torment themselves will certainly lose the joy of sport. It must not stress or burden us additionally, because then many of the positive effects will be gone.