The most sophisticated computer imaginable is sitting just above your shoulders. Although we try our best to understand how it operates, the human brain is an intricate work of art beyond human comprehension. Just the fact that you are able to read these black doodles that we call “letters” and derive meaning from them is truly a miracle. Complex electrical impulses travel through hundreds of “miles” of circuits of brain cells to tell us to swallow, pick up a paintbrush, or give directions to a neighbor. Today we’ll talk about how movement may just be the brain’s magic bullet. Hopefully through this article, Brain Health Exercise, we will all be inspired to move more and sit less!
I’ve been reading a fascinating book by John Medina called Brain Rules, explaining how the brain works. John is a “developmental molecular biologist and research consultant.” Wow! That’s impressive! He has a beautiful writing style, and his book is well organized. I was intrigued by the subtitle, “12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.” Since you are likely reading this in order to LIVE YOUNGER, I want to share what I’m learning. The majority of this blog information is taken from Brain Rules; I hope this information inspires you as much as it did me. Bottom line: our brains are amazing! Physical vigor creates mental vigor.
I must note that my perspective is quite different from John’s for Rule #1 which he expounds on in the Introduction. He talks extensively about how the human brain evolved, starting as a “lizard brain.” I could not disagree more. I believe that we are designed and created by God; the more I learn about the biochemistry of the body, the more apparent that is to me. Nevertheless, John’s Rule #1 is basically that our brains are good at survival.
Rule #2 is where I want to dig in today. John Medina opens this chapter with the fascinating story of Jack LaLanne, the man known as the “godfather of fitness,” swimming in the ocean while pulling 70 boats, each with a passenger in it, at age 70. This is the man who is credited with creating the exercise “Jumping Jacks.” I can remember moving a kitchen chair in front of our black and white TV to do exercises with Jack. Not only was LaLanne physically strong, he was mentally buff until his death at age 96.
In my dental practice, I have many people who are nearly identical in “chronological” age but are very different in “biological” age. In other words, two people may share the same birth year but their ability to respond mentally and/or physically to life varies greatly. John does a great job explaining this in Brain Rules, Chapter 1. With a lot of research, he tells of 10,000 British civil servants ages 35 to 55 years old who were studied and compared. Their activity levels were ranked low, medium, or high. They found that those with a more sedentary lifestyle had lower cognitive performance.
But don’t get too discouraged yet. This story has a great ending! In as little as four months of exercise, all types of mental abilities were strengthened. Even a little exercise benefits your brain. According to John’s research, 30 minutes of aerobic exercise two or three times a week is the “gold standard.” Strength training adds even more benefit.
Why does exercise benefit the brain so much? Basically, exercise increases blood flow to the brain. The blood carries oxygen and nutrients in (the groceries) and carries byproducts of cellular metabolism (the trash) out. Exercise also stimulates a growth factor in the brain, called “brain- derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). He quotes Harvard psychiatrist, John Ratey, who said, “I call it (BDNF) Miracle Gro, brain fertilizer.”
Modern civilization is wonderful and I’m thankful to be living in this time in history. However, it is really easy to do a lot of sitting – even while doing quality endeavors. Research has shown that there are numerous benefits of exercise including:
- Decrease of many cancers
- Improved strength and balance
- Improved bone density
- Decreased anxiety and depression
- Improved sleep
- Improved immunity — just to name a few!
There are two takeaways that I want to leave you with:
- Exercise maintains memory.
- Brain Health Exercise must be consistent for optimal brain health.
Let’s START SOMEWHERE to move more and sit less. Just a small change today can make a huge difference tomorrow. You can do it. I will help you.