The act of performing aerobic exercise directly influences our stress response. As a side effect of our increasing heart rate during exercise, our heart secretes a hormone called atrial natrieuretic peptide. When this hormone reaches the brain, it directly reduces the impact of the stress response. Additionally, aerobic exercise promotes reduced tension in your muscles, which further reduces the influence of the stress response.
In physical therapy or fitness training, our movement system must be re-educated to access new movements, and increasing aerobic capacity accelerates our ability to learn movements.
Aerobic exercise increases production of a molecule called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that influences learning and memory. This stimulates the development of new neurons in the brain and helps maintain the health of existing neurons. More neurons equals more useful connections between neurons which, in turn, promotes easier and faster learning. All of this from some simple aerobic exercise!
How hard do we need to work to see benefits in stress reduction, learning, and pain reduction? Not as hard as you may think. You can use a simple “Talk Test” to measure how hard to work (see the video below). Try to start with 15-20 minutes of activity and build from there.