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Bigger Brains,

Engaged Employees

The connection between

exercise, body& mind

A LifeDojo whitepaper
Not intended for unauthorized distribution
LifeDojo employee wellbeing 1


By now, pretty much all of us know that exercise is good for us.
Obesity, high blood pressure, depression, insomnia, low energyall
of these and more can be either prevented, or at the very least be
greatly improved, with regular physical exercise. Preventing these
problems is crucial for businesses hoping to keep healthcare costs
down...and HR professionals have taken notice.

Exercise has been called, by many great are given the full breadth of facts on just how
thinkers today, the magic pill for the many valuable exercise is, they start to find the time
physical and mental health ailments employees and motivation to make it a regular part of
face, and with good reason. Hundreds of theirlives.
research studies have been conducted to
measure the impact of exercise on everything If you are an HR or C-suite leader tasked
from depression and anxiety to cognitive with improving the health of employees, then
improvements and of course, greatly improved knowing exactly what happens to the body and
physical health. Exercise has even been shown mind when exercise is introduced may make
to create new brain cells and new connections the difference the next time you lead a wellness
between parts of the brain, as well as activation initiative with youremployees.
of the parts of the brain responsible for memory!
So, for the next few pages its time to put your
Yet, many modern professionals struggle nerd cap onwe know we will beand lets
to find the time in their lives and motivation dig deep into the impact of exercise on the very
within themselves to exercise. We at LifeDojo make-up of our bodies and brains.
have seen that many times, when employees
LifeDojo employee wellbeing 2

Exercise, stress, body & mind:

Its all connected

First off, lets define it. Exercise is defined as any physical activity

requiring some kind of effort, carried out for a period of time with

the intention of improving or maintaining physical fitness. Its any

activity you do that requires more effort than resting. Thats simple.

But what exactly happens inside a persons body and brain when

they do this activity called exercise?

Lets start with one very important fact that few people know.

Exercise actually places the body under active stress. Known also

as the fight or flight response, when a person exercises there are

three areas of their brain that are engaged in very real ways: 1)

the amygdala, 2) the hippocampus, and 3) the prefrontal cortex.

DEFINITION: What is a fight or flight reaction?

Fight or flight is a widely used term that this state is triggered, the body prepares itself
describes a physical reaction to a threatening to either fight the perceived threat, or flee the
situation. First described by Walter Bradford situation - adrenaline is released, breathing
Cannon, the term is synonymous with an acute quickens, pulse rate increases, our sight and
stress reaction in response to a perceived awareness sharpens, all in preparation for a fight
threat. It is called fight or flight because when or an escape.
LifeDojo employee wellbeing 3

Prefrontal Cortex Hippocampus

Cingulate Cortex

Image based on original from the National Institute of Mental Health.


Theseregions, in partnership with the hypothalamus, work together

to regulate production of the stress hormone called cortisol.

They also happen to regulate physical responses, like an elevated


When a person exercises, their heart rate starts to increase,

sending messages to the brain to increase the amount of blood

pumped throughout the body. As part of this process, other

elements called neurotransmitters are pumped into that fast-

flowing blood, including serotonin, which regulates mood,

endorphins, which increases positive feelings, and dopamine,

which triggers both positive feelings and anticipation of rewards!

These neurotransmitters are a powerful team, and when a person

is exercising, they wake up and move around in ways never seen

LifeDojo employee wellbeing 4

while a persons body is at rest. Its true that endorphins are

released almost every time something great happens, like winning

a game or embracing a loved one, but it goes into your bloodstream

through the pituitary gland in pretty small doses.

During exercise, But when a person exercises? Endorphins

are fired off directly inside the brainat

endorphins are an incredibly high rategiving a person

a mood-boost far greater than normal. At

produced right in this rate, stress hormones drop and good

thebrain! feelings go up, leaving a person relaxed

and feeling at ease with life.

As if this wasnt enough, yet another neurotransmitter, called

GABA, also kicks in while a person exercises. GABA has been

shown to increase calm and decrease anxiety by stopping whats

known as excessive neural firing. The next time you finish a long-

workout and feel like you are floating, thank GABA.

DEFINITION: What is a neurotransmitter?

Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that nerve fiber, muscle fiber or other structure in the
are released from the ends of nerve fibers by the body. More than 100 different neurotransmitters
arrival of a nerve impulse. The chemical release have been identified by scientists, but more are
causes the transfer of the impulse to another still being discovered.
LifeDojo employee wellbeing 5

Unlock your brains

own MiracleGro

Neurotransmitter boosts are one great reason to exercisebut

were not done yet. When a person exercises, it also releases what

Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey calls the MiracleGro for the brain:

BDNF. This protein, arguably one of the most crucial biological

links between thought, emotions and movement, literally increases

the electric voltage in a persons brain! In science-speak, BDNF is

a neurotrophin protein that promotes synaptic plasticity. In common

language, this protein literally grows and repairs a persons brain

like sprinkling MiracleGro on a garden.

So, what happens when the BDNF protein is produced and pumped

into the brain faster and more often? It makes a person think

faster, smarter, and in a more focused way. Whats the number one

way to get BDNF moving? Exercise.

When a person is young, these kind of benefits are exciting and

refreshing. As a person gets older, these benefits can add up to

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something much more seriousa longer

life with a fully functioning brain.

As early as age 30, brains can start to

lose nerve tissue. A person may feel

healthy, but their brain may begin to

shrink if they dont do anything about it. This image is a computer rendering of the
structure of BDNF, by scientists at the Oxford
People with advanced Alzheimers and University Center for Molecular Studies.

dementia have been found to have greatly

reduced amounts of brain tissue. The

message here? Exercise has been shown to slow down neural

tissue loss, and has been shown to lead to a denser, stronger

network within the brain that improves memory, short-term recall

and better processing power.

The brain of an Alzheimers patient (left) shows significant signs of shrinking compared to a normal
brain. Image source: BBC news, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-29554485
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The best thing you can do

foryourbody and mind

Whatever age a person is, exercise is indeed the magic pill

that improves both the body and the mind. Whether it is the

neurotransmitters of serotonin, endorphins and dopamine getting the

party going in your brain in a way that makes you feel alive, awake

and at ease with the worldor it is the MiracleGro for the brain,

BDNF, that is making your smarter, more focused and protecting

you from the greatest threats of cognitive declineexercise unlocks

some of the greatest doors inside you to a healthier, happier life.

As an HR or C-suite leader, you have an incredible opportunity

to enrich the lives of your employees by sharing with them these

opportunities for self-improvementand there is no doubt these

neural improvements will lead to more productive, happier, more

fulfilled employees.

Want to talk about how you can deliver this type of motivation

directly to all of your employees at once? Give us a call. Its what

LifeDojo employee wellbeing 8


Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. <http://

Exercise Can Be a Key Anti-Anxiety Treatment. Mercola.com. Web. <http://fitness.
Exercise Can Help Brain Healing Process. News-Medical.net. 02 June 2004. Web.
Exercise Makes Mice Smarter, Salk Scientists Demonstrate - Salk Institute - News
Release. Web. <http://www.salk.edu/news/pressrelease_details.php?press_id=37>.
Running Boosts Number Of Brain Cells, According To New Salk Study. Salk Institute
News Release. Web. <http://www.salk.edu/news/pressrelease_details.php?press_
The Fight or Flight Response - 5 Minute Stress Mastery. Web. <http://www.
What Happens To Our Brains When We Exercise And How It Makes Us Happier.
Fast Company. P.d.: 04 Feb. 2014. Web. <http://www.fastcompany.com/3025957/
Structure of the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor/Neurotrophin 3 Heterodimer .
Biochemistry, 1995, 34 (13), pp 41394146. P.d: April 1995. <http://pubs.acs.org/doi/
LifeDojo improves employee health one habit at a time. Using Contact LifeDojo
clinically-proven 12-week behavior change methods, our
156 2nd Street
online platform engages employees in a structured journey San Francisco, CA 94105
of motivation, change-planning and daily action, resulting in
healthy habit changes that last. connect@lifedojo.com

A LifeDojo whitepaper
Not intended for unauthorized distribution