This Is Your Brain On Exercise

Everyone knows exercise is good for you, but most people do it to ‘lose weight and get in shape’.  Burn off that bodyfat and tone those muscles!  Exercise does so much more than simply burn fuel and shape our muscles, it makes us feel good!  It increases the blood flow to not only our muscles, heart and lungs, but also to our most important body part…our brain.  Exercise stimulates muscle AND brain cell growth.  It makes you smart AND good looking!

One of my favorite books on this subject is Spark by John J. Ratey, MD.  I read it back in 2008, so when my son’s fourth grade teacher, Miranda Reagan, decided to “spark” her students’ brains to help them relieve stress and increase their brain power before the big state exam (called TCAP’s here in Tennessee), I was reminded of this amazing book.  I was also impressed that Ms Reagan, and another teacher Ms England, put their brains together to create a program similar to the one mentioned in Spark, “This revolutionary fitness program put one US school system of 19,000 kids first in the world in science”.  As you will see in the video below, and the following power point presentation, exercise does indeed spark the brain.

Physical activity “Sparks” biological changes that engage brain cells to bind to each other.  In other words exercise enhances memory, mood, and mental acuity as demonstrated by this power point presentation,  made by these students of the fourth grade class featured in my video above:

Exercise Rocks

Triggered by a primitive call to survive, our stress response is a built-in gift of evolution.  We need stress to survive.  It is built into our genes.  From the time Homo sapiens appeared two million years ago until the agricultural revolution, ten thousand years ago, everyone was a hunter-gatherer.  This lifestyle required short, intense physical activity followed by rest.  Acute stress, intense small short doses, causes our mental machinery to work better.  Chronic, or long term nagging stress, can cause a breakdown in our mental and physical wiring.  It goes way back to our ancient brain fight-or-flight response, which activates attention, energy, and memory. Just as the mind can affect the body, the body can affect the mind.

The problem lies in our modern lifestyle of chronic mental stress and no physical outlet.  This has a tendency to drive us to eat comfort foods, the fast foods and sugars, the alcohol to take the edge off, or to pop a pill.  If you exercise you are tapping into an ancient antidote to stress. The next time you feel mentally stressed instead of grabbing that cupcake or glass of wine, try jumping a rope, going on a bike ride, or running a mile-a-thon like these amazing fourth graders.  It will replace the corrosive head fog, and that desire or craving in the brain to eat or drink.  It will kick start your mind and energize your body. Now Get Out and Play like a fourth grader!