Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Exercising Your Brain

It’s hardly news one in three American’s is obese. The causes are two-fold – too many calories and not enough exercise.

A constant barrage of media encourages us to get off the couch and exercise. We are told that exercise improves mood, reduces tension and promotes the tendency to see problems as solvable. It increases endorphins and produces an important anti-distress effect in the body. And, more recent research indicates that exercise makes you smarter. The studies linking exercise to cognitive functioning have been going on for decades (1,2,). After years of research, we find that cardiovascular exercise does improve cognitive abilities, learning, memory and executive functioning (planning, scheduling, multitasking). Although we don’t know the exact mechanisms that improve brain health, animal research is giving us some clues. Researchers are finding that cardiovascular exercise creates new capillaries and increase blood flow and the production of proteins that create new nerve cells and encourage old neurons to grow. All good things, right?

Did you know that inactivity can contribute to depression, ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease? Studies done at Duke and University of Victoria found that exercise works as well as antidepressants on depression. In addition, Laura Baker, PhD, from the University of Washington School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System (3), found that Alzheimer’s patients with mild cognitive impairment improved with aerobic exercise while the group who participated in stretching and balancing exercises continued to decline.

So, how does this relate to resilience? Remember, resilience is all about recovery time. Your mental and physical health is directly related to how quickly you bounce back from stressful events. If you are losing brain cells and your cognitive abilities are declining, you certainly won’t be as sharp as you need to be to cope with life challenges. The healthier you are, the stronger you are, the tougher you are. So get off the couch, get fit and improve your brain. What have you got to lose besides brain cells?



Kramer, Art. Trends in Cognitive Sciences (Vol.11, No.8)
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Vol.106, No.49)
Archives of Neurology (Vol.67, No.1)

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