Walk, Dance, Play

Our ancestors walked about 10 miles a day to get their food. Tt is not surprising that there is a significant connection between exercise and the brain. Studies show that when your muscles move, especially in an aerobic way, they release three substances that go to your brain and stimulate the formation of new brain cells and the creation of new connections between existing brain cells. This process is called neurogenesis or neuroplasticity. The most important of these substances is called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor or BDNF. Since this is a big word, Dr. John Ratey a Harvard psychiatrist and author of the book Spark calls it “Miracle-Gro” for the brain.

Physical exercise not only improves your cardiovascular condition and strengthens your muscles, but also helps your brain grow in many ways. One of the areas particularly affected by BDNF is the Hippocampus – this is where learning and memory occur. Studies show that if you exercise regularly you also decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s by 50%. How much exercise? About 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week. You can walk, dance or play. Dancing and playing provide additional benefits. These activities not only require coordination, but they are usually fun and give people a sense of well-being.

So get off the couch and do something fun!

Move Daily for 30 Minutes

As the Walk, Dance, Play link reveals, physical exercise has multiple benefits. It improves memory and learning, lowers stress levels, improves the function of the cardiovascular system and your lungs, lowers blood sugar levels and improves insulin sensitivity. All these contribute to weight loss, lowered your cholesterol and increased overall fitness and sense of well-being.

In general, moving for 30 minutes a day depending on the intensity is sufficient. If you run or exercise at a high intensity level, about 20 minutes 3 times a week is enough. If you walk at a brisk pace, then 30 minutes 5 days a week is recommended. Of course, gardening, taking the stairs, parking the car further away, all of them count. Also, there is an increased benefit when you exercise for more time, say about 60 minutes. To begin, find something that you enjoy, and do it every day for whatever time you have available. We can discuss this during your next visit. Have fun!

Resistance Training Twice a Week

Regular exercise increases learning, improves memory, benefits the heart and lungs, lowers blood sugar and cholesterol and lowers stress levels. It also helps with weight loss. Although greater benefits come from aerobic exercise, there are also many benefits from strength training—using free weights, exercise machines, resistance bands or body weight.

Resistance exercises have some additional benefits. Think of the skeleton as the framework or scaffolding of the body. What makes that framework move is the muscles and tendons attached to it. As we age, we are less active, but in addition, we tend to lose 6 lb. of muscle and gain about 10 lb. of fat every 10 years, especially after 40 years of age. How can this dynamic be counteracted? Through strength training.

Resistance exercise makes skeletal muscles bigger and stronger and keeps body fat down. Since muscles are challenged during exercise, they need a day or two to rest and grow. The usual recommendations are to do resistance training three times a week. Some studies have shown that resistance training twice a week will give you 90% of the benefit of three times a week, which makes it easier and more convenient to accomplish. The benefits from strength training as we age cannot be overemphasized. Increasing the strength and the size of your muscles, increases metabolism, decreases insulin resistance, burns sugar, and creates strength. This results in better control of the skeleton—or the framework— better posture, less chance of falling and breaking a bone and much less stress on joints.

Talk to us about how to start a strength training program with just 2 bottles of water!

Exercise Needs To Be Fun

People often ask about the best form of exercise. The answer is, whatever you enjoy! Unless you are training for a specific event, any exercise will benefit you. Of course if exercising with more intensity, up to a certain point, yields greater benefits. On the other hand, forcing yourself to perform exercises that are not enjoyable results in infrequent exercising. It is always important to start slowly and create a routine that you will be able to follow.

So find something you enjoy, something you have fun with – walking, dancing, biking, swimming, running, roller blading, gardening – and just do it!

Exercise To Grow Your Brain

As discussed, there is a direct link between exercise, especially aerobic, and brain growth. When we were hunters and gatherers (there are some hunter and gatherer cultures that still exist today) we needed to walk about 10 miles a day to find food. It was important to be constantly moving and learning– where is the water, where is shelter, what to eat and not to eat, how to protect oneself, etc. These were all brain activities that required constant learning and improvement of memory for survival.

Recent studies show that BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) increases in brain tissue after exercise. BDNF is also secreted by contracting muscles and helping in their repair, regeneration and differentiation. Muscle contraction during exercise not only improves your muscle mass but also makes your brain grow in a process called neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. The areas most affected by BDNF are the Hippocampus (learning, memory) the central cortex (higher functions), and the basal forebrain. This last area is a collection of structures that produce acetylcholine – “a substance that affects the ability of the brain cells to transmit information to one another and encourages neuroplasticity.”

In summary, we evolved by moving our body and growing our brain. Trees do not move, so they do not need a brain. With both muscles and brain the motto is “Move it or lose it!” Many of the “age related diseases” are not really age related, they are the result of inadequate lifestyle.

Exercise! Move regularly any way you want, and your brain will continue to grow.

Empowering Every Patient with Lifestyle Medicine.