Movement Keeps Your Brain HealthyFebruary 23, 2014
Did you know that staying physically active is one of the most powerful things you can do to decrease your risk of developing dementia? Or that exercise plays a vital role in helping your children perform at their best at school?
As recently as last week several media outlets (including The Guardian and The Independent) reported on a recent study that showed how 30-40 minutes of light physical activity 3 times a week was all it took to stimulate the regrowth of cells in areas of the brain linked to cognitive decline.
However, this summary of a presentation given at the University of New South Wales’ BrainSciences Symposium in 2011 also illustrates how our neurological wellbeing is not just associated with a lack of movement as we age, but – given the associations between some forms of dementia, obesity and diabetes – with our levels of activity in our younger years as well.
The bottom line is that staying active is one of the most powerful lifestyle choices you can make to keep your brain and nervous system healthy, and here are the key reasons why:
Movement Activates Your Nervous System
Well, in some ways, think of movement as being the equivalent of someone turning on the switch that lights up a city like London in the evening. When you move and exercise you cause a surge of electrical messages to go pumping across your nervous system that fire up its level of function.
In keeping with a “use it or lose it” theme, these messages nourish and promote the health and wellbeing of the cells of your nervous system, promoting your sense of balance, coordination, joint position sense and overall neurological fitness, and minimising the effects of cognitive decline.
Chronic exposure to stress weakens our neural networks and inhibits many aspects of our neurological function.
These two events can offset the effects of cortisol, adrenaline and other chemicals associated with the stress response. This can help learning, memory and other neurological functions to work more effectively, whilst also helping us to maintain a generally more harmonious and homeostatically balanced state of function within our body in spite of our busy, fast paced and stress inducing lifestyles.
Movement stimulates your circulation, bringing fresh nutrition and oxygen rich blood to all the cells of your body (including your brain), and helping to promote the removal of the waste products of cellular metabolism.
Once again, if you’ve ever been stuck on a plane for 14 hours or confined to prolonged bed rest as a result of some sort of illness you’ll know how sluggish and weak the body can feel in these circumstances, and how good it can feel to get yourself moving and your circulation ticking over properly again.
Ok, so that’s bleedingly obvious, but what we mean is that when you are moving you are burning more energy than when you are sedentary.
When we move there is less of a tendency to store excess energy intake as fat, less of a tendency to comfort eat whilst sitting in front of the T.V., less of a tendency to become overweight, less of a tendency to develop diabetes, less of a tendency to develop high blood pressure, less of a tendency to get stressed about your poor body image, less of a tendency to drink or smoke to blow off that stress, and so on.
We don’t want to bore you, but when you remember that so many of the illnesses that deprive people in modern economies of their health are lifestyle illnesses (even some forms of dementia are being nicknamed Type 3 Diabetes) it’s worth remembering that most of us have a lot of control over the quality of health we do or don’t enjoy.
Healthy Mind, Healthy Body
This article has touched on some of the key reasons why movement is so important for your neurological health and wellbeing, but healthy movement also has a significant impact on your musculoskeletal health, immune function, and many other aspects of your wellbeing.
Other articles on our website will cover these topics in due course, but in the meantime consider these tips on healthy ageing from the U.S. governments National Institute of Health – we note that exercise is at the top of the list!
For Healthy Aging
No treatments or drugs have yet been proven to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. But these healthy lifestyle choices and behaviours may help the ageing brain:
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Engage in social and intellectually stimulating activities.
- Control type 2 diabetes.
- Reduce high blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Don’t smoke.
- See a doctor about mental health issues, such as depression.