One minute per day can transform you.


Do you know all the positive effects of physical exercise on your body and your mind? I bet you don’t. And even if you do know some of them, you may think that the recommended-by-the-Mayo-Clinic 30 minutes per day of moderate aerobic activity (about 150 minutes per week) is unattainable. If you’re like a lot of people, you might think that 30 minutes is too much time out of your day, and you are too busy or too tired for exercise.

Well, you don’t need to start with 30 minutes a day. You could just start with one minute per day.

You will tell me there is nothing you can do in one minute. Yet, you will be surprised at how much you can do in one minute: You can get on your tiptoes up and down for 20 seconds, then flex your knees up and down for another 20 seconds, then take one bottle of water in each hand and flex your biceps for an additional 20 seconds. See how much you can do in the comfort of your home for one minute? Or you can go for a walk around the block and for this, you will need at least 5 minutes.

You will be surprised at how much better this one minute per day or this walk around the block will make you feel immediately. And indeed, it is because physical exercise affects almost every part of the body. Among the numerous positive effects that physical exercise has, there are 4 little-known benefits:

1. Physical exercise benefits the brain.

Studies done by Texas Tech University show that physical exercise makes the brain secrete a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which increases the number of connections (called synapses) between neurons, helps create new neurons (a process called neurogenesis), increases long-term memory storage (see study) and increases hippocampus size (which encodes short term memory). As a result, physical exercise improves memory and cognitive function.

This same brain-derived neurotrophic factor has also an effect on mood. Lisa Monteggia from the University of Texas Southwestern demonstrated that BDNF has an anti-depressive effect. 

A 2020 publication from the University College of London showed that the more physically fit people are, the less odds of depression and anxiety they have. Other studies show how physical exercise can slow down Alzheimer’s disease and significantly delay its onset in some cases.

All the above are effects of physical exercise on brain neurons.

But exercise helps more than the brain’s neurons: It also is good for the blood vessels in the brain.

Studies at the University of California, San Diego show that physical exercise stimulates the production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the brain which stimulates the production of new blood vessels (a process called angiogenesis). This production of new blood vessels is important in the prevention of strokes.

As a matter of fact, studies on rats done by the University of South Florida show that even an instant of physical exercise before a stroke makes the stroke much less severe and the animals recuperate much faster than when they didn’t exercise. 

We’ve established that even brief exercise is good for your brain, but the benefits extend to other surprising parts of the body as well, including the immune system. This is especially important right now during the coronavirus pandemic.

Originally Published on Psychology Today

© Dr. Chris Gilbert, MD, PhD

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