I am convinced and research is showing that physical exercise is the number one, absolute best thing a person can do for their brain and body. While the many benefits of a workout are well-known for the rest of body, the incredible advantages for the brain are not common knowledge.
So much evidence is accumulating that physical exercise is a miracle potion for getting and keeping the brain healthy at any age. Research has proven that even moderate exercise, such as walking at a comfortable pace for 40 minutes three times a week, can enhance the connectivity of brain circuits, combat decline in function associated with aging and increase performance on cognitive tasks. The exact amount or intensity of the exercise required has not been determined, although it appears that the minimum is thankfully low. Studies have even shown that strength training can have lasting cognitive benefits.
Moving your body increases the blood flow to the brain which, in turn, elevates oxygen levels in the brain. Exercise promotes neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, the production of new neurons and the connections between neurons.
According to an online article, Move Your Feet, Grow New Neurons? Exercise-Induced Neurogenesis Shown in Humans, by Brenda Patoine :
“Exercise mobilizes the molecular machinery to improve brain health and cognition,” says Carl Cotman, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Irvine. “It increases metabolism in the brain and generally makes brain cells healthier; it even helps clear out Alzheimer’s pathology in mouse models.”
Physical exercise was a huge part of my recovery from a serious brain injury. Once I learned how beneficial exercise is for the brain, my life became all about encouraging neuroplasticity and putting it to work for me in my own brain. Self-directed neuroplasticity was the key to my recovery, I believe.
For the first months after the injury, I went to the Y, working out regularly on the elliptical machine, stairmaster, or treadmill and took classes. Well, I tried to participate as best as I could in the group classes. Because my timing and coordination were way off, I looked down right goofy. By repeatedly attempting these movements, I forced my brain to make new connections to master the exact things that were difficult. I’d sweated regularly my entire adult life motivated by vanity up until this point. Little did I know how well my ego would later serve me.
Upon continuing to learn more about how to better my brain, at 10 months post injury, I began doing cardiovascular activity every day, usually 45 minutes to an hour, but, no less than 30 minutes. Everyday. No excuses. I remember running in the pouring rain and all bundled up in the snow with only my eyes exposed. When it came to working out without fail, I had a compulsive drive and hyper focus, because I desperately wanted to recover, because my brain was not functioning optimally, and because I’d had an inclination to be this way my whole life.
While I’d applied this laser beam focus towards many things that weren’t to my benefit in the past, such as a man or having an immaculate house, this trait helped me tremendously now. I exercised almost every day for over two years. I also added yoga to the mix, but didn’t count it as exercise. It was my relaxation.
Thankfully, I did recover far beyond what the medical community predicted and enjoyed the added benefit of getting in the best shape of my life in my late forties no less! Still to this day, 5 years post injury, I do cardiovascular exercise or yoga every day because I feel strongly that these activities are crucial to my mental and physical health as I age. They have become so much a part of my lifestyle that I just don’t feel right if I don’t do them, and I find them enjoyable. If exercise can remarkably better an injured brain, like mine, just think of what it can do for a brain that is not injured!