As research uncovers more about the importance of vigorous physical activity we are becoming more understanding about the significance of it. Photo / 123rf
Research continues to uncover more about the importance of vigorous physical activity in both the prevention of and as a healing medicine for mental and emotional health. When we have physical ill-health, we can
have mental ill-health as well.
They occur and are closely linked together the same way that a healthy body is linked to healthy emotional and mental states and can even help us get back in touch and calm our often-stressed-out inner self. When we work our muscular system with proper exercise, natural chemicals are released that regulate emotions and thoughts and work to dissipate stress.
It’s time we understood the truth that our health and fitness do not stop at the neck. Our exercise programme oils the wheels that turn in our brains for everything from the way we think, to what we feel and what we do. Oxygen-rich blood gets pumped around our body when we exercise, benefiting every single cell, tissue and organ including our brain. It boosts the power of our brains’ software and stimulates energy to the rest of the body.
Because our brain is the central processing unit for all the body’s systems and processes, the condition of its health is a priority. The hippocampus, i.e., our brain’s memory centre, is particularly adaptable and capable of releasing hormones from the muscles as well as growing new cells our entire life, even well into our 90s, provided our lifestyle supports it. It is an amazing organ with the capacity to regenerate and grow from cradle to grave, and movement has proven to be a major key towards stimulating all brain-boosting processes to occur.
Proper exercise releases brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) protecting and repairing neurons. Hormones combined with BDNF grow new cells, regulate mood and provide mental clarity. Endorphins that dull pain, serotonin that enhances mood and dopamine that improves our motivation, focus and learning all get a boost with proper challenging exercise.
According to Dr. Kelly McGonigal, psychologist, TED speaker and author of several books including Joy of Movement “When you exercise, it increases endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline and endocannabinoid — these are all brain chemicals associated with feeling happy, feeling confident, feeling capable, feeling less anxiety and stress and even less physical pain.”
Even though it is not officially a muscle, the brain acts much like a muscle and lucky for us, the type of exercise programme that benefits our brain is identical to the one that benefits the rest of our body. Our ideal is to strive for a comprehensive routine that includes strength training (resistance exercise) 2-3 times a week along with 1-2 high-intensity interval exercise sessions. (HIIT).
We should also be taking advantage of incidental daily activity by standing as much as possible to avoid the well-documented hazards associated with chronic sitting. One study recently revealed a direct connection between working our leg muscles and maintaining cognitive function as we age.
Who knew there could be a direct connection between the strength of our legs and our cognitive function i.e., standing is beneficial while sitting is detrimental to our health? But there is.
The study followed 324 female twins, aged 43 to 73, for a decade. Cognitive function such as learning, and memory were tested at both the outset and at the conclusion of the study.
The results as reported by MedicineNet.com will likely surprise many: “The researchers found that leg strength was a better predictor of brain health than any other lifestyle factors looked at in the study.” Generally, the twin with more leg strength at the start of the study maintained her mental abilities better and had fewer age-related brain changes than the twin with weaker legs.
Lead author Claire Staves states, ‘It’s compelling to see such differences in cognition [thinking] and brain structure in identical twins, who had different leg power 10 years before. “It suggests that simple lifestyle changes that boost our physical activity may help to keep us both mentally and physically healthy.”
This study focusing on twins is said to be the first showing a specific link between leg power and cognition in normal, healthy people. The results are great news for all of us since our leg muscles are among the largest in our body and can be easily worked with simple strengthening exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges etc.
As research uncovers more about the importance of vigorous physical activity in both prevention of and as a healing medicine for mental and emotional health, we are becoming more understanding about the significance of it.
The science is clear on this point: memory loss and cognitive decline really depends on our daily habits and the amount of exercise/movement we get. They are integrally linked.
In general, challenging exercise improves the connectivity of brain circuits, increases grey matter (actual neurons), combats and reverses the brain shrinkage associated with poor fitness, increases performance on cognitive tasks, shields us from stress and depression, and retards the onset of dementia.
Strength training combined with HIIT (High-intensity interval workout) not only opens the door to a trim and fit body, but reduces the risk of chronic disease, relieves fatigue and anxiety and helps us regain the youthful enthusiasm and energy we need to live our life to the fullest.
If we are tired, fatigued or stressed a challenging exercise session is the perfect panacea. It rejuvenates us in a short time because it boosts blood flow and increases growth factors in our brain. We think better, concentrate better and enjoy clarity of mind with a sharp memory. Our self-esteem and self-confidence rise, promoting the growth and nurturing of self-love – the true measure of one’s self-worth.
This positive mental attitude isn’t limited to our personal issues either, but overflows, affects and colours all our perceptions about life. It’s a good thing.
“Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional and mental state.” Carol Welch
Carolyn Hansen is co owner Anytime Fitness