Exercise boosts brain power is rule number one in John Medina’s Brain Rules. Exercise that dreaded word. Really, when you read the sentence “Exercise boosts brain power” does all of you get to the last word or has a part of you exited your body? Not wanting to feel the “I should…” or “I’m not…”or “I’ll never be…” we drift away losing the bad feeling by losing all feeling. I can notice a disconnection, the part of me that feels responsibility and guilt for not taking care of my physicality every day was more than I wanted to experience. So with a little acknowledgement, “yes, there is a part of me that feels guilt/shame”, and “hello, I notice that part”, the unwanted part of me doesn’t need to be eradicated, just acknowledged. Here is a deep breath, now I can go on exploring the idea of using movement to keep my brain humming.
The value of exercise has been highly documented. Many a rat has run many a wheel and then had their neurons mapped. And many a person has given a positive subjective report from their experience of exercise. On a physiological level exercise increases oxygen intake. The oxygen rich blood sponges up free radicals and transports them via carbon dioxide out of the body through breath, nice system. That increased blood flow stimulates blood vessel growth transporting blood and its gifts further into more tissue, helping each cell do what it is meant to do more efficiently. And as I noted in the blog about play, voluntary exercise stimulates Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is a protein which supports neuronal health and new neuronal growth. This new growth or neurogenesis is most noticeable in the hippocampus the brain area associated with formation of memory. Memory, learning, cognitive function we’re on a roll.
Our bodies just weren’t designed to sit for eight plus hours a day (I’m not differentiating brain from body.) Scientists say long ago our early people walked about 12 miles a day. We needed to move to forage, to hunt, to connect with our people in dance, song and play. We evolved a brain/body perfectly suited to those needs. All that moving makes every part of us function better.
I teach people to take movement breaks when they need more brain power and that helps me remember to do it for myself. One of the easiest brain boosters to remember is cross crawl, right elbow to left knee and left elbow to right knee, you can even do it in your chair. Sure I encourage you to get out of your chair but I’ve done this on cramped airplane seats, you do what you can manage. A little can be a lot, it’s not the equivalent of a trip to the gym but 3 minutes can make a difference in your ability to concentrate.
Set your phone alarm for three minutes and move continually in any way your body likes until that timer chimes. Then notice; how is your attention? Do you feel more with it? I also teach a sequence called BrainDance, it will take 7-8 minutes and stimulates multiple brain areas. The possibilities are innumerable. I know a lot of movement educators, fitness professionals who can offer a lot, and if you can work with any of them it will be worth every bit of your time and money. But in our culture of consult the experts we forget we can just move, listening to and following our bodies impulses to feel energized and satisfied.
Some of you, like me, have body parts that have been injured or are prone to injury; and we must learn to work with our limitations. Maybe you can’t do yoga or Zumba or distance running but you can do something. Discover how you can exercise, and if it’s not really fun at least notice how great you feel as a result. Are your joints, lungs, heart or brain working better? If so revel in that and remember it is in your power to move, to dance, to exercise, to walk, to run and support your brain to function at the high level it is meant to.