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Free Brain Exercise: Two Feet of Free Therapy

Guess what?! There is this amaz­ing ther­apy that is free for every­one. All you need is two feet (and many very accom­plished prac­ti­tion­ers don’t even have that!). … It’s called exer­cise!

All kid­ding aside, there is more and more evi­dence com­ing to light about how your brain health is intri­cately inter­twined with the health of the rest of your body. The IHRSA Well­ness Report posted “In addi­tion to build­ing strength, exer­cise ben­e­fits men­tal health” yes­ter­day.

Exer­cise improves blood flow to the brain, it helps the body detox­ify, it puts you on a bet­ter cycle of phys­i­cal behav­ior, and it leads to decreased stress. It also improves think­ing and men­tal func­tion and decreases your ten­dency toward addic­tion,” said Dr. Marc Siegel, an internist at New York Uni­ver­sity Med­ical Cen­ter and an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine at the NYU School of Medicine.

Exer­cise is also an excel­lent anti­de­pres­sant. Accord­ing to James Mad­dux, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at George Mason Uni­ver­sity and expert on the mind-body health con­nec­tion, “there’s evi­dence that exer­cise is maybe the best non-pharmacological anti­de­pres­sant we have — stud­ies have shown that it works bet­ter than some drugs. It’s also a great anti-anxiety inter­ven­tion”.

So, for an invest­ment of maybe 3 hours a week, you get: a detox treat­ment, improved think­ing, and decreased stress, anx­i­ety, depres­sion, and addic­tive ten­den­cies. Not a bad deal! Not to men­tion weight loss, increased energy, and social­iza­tion (if you join a club, gym, or team). An inter­est­ing com­po­nent to the stress reduc­tion is not just the phys­i­cal burn­ing up and removal of stress hor­mones, but also the sense of con­trol that a reg­u­lar work­out gives you. The sense of auton­omy you get by tak­ing con­trol of your health is a great stress reliever.

If you play sports, you are get­ting quite a bit of men­tal stim­u­la­tion packed in with your car­dio­vas­cu­lar work­out. I hap­pen to play ten­nis which gives me end­less brain exer­cise by try­ing to fig­ure out what is and how to hit the right shot at the right time in order to beat the per­son on the other side of the net who is try­ing to do the same thing! But other sports that involve strat­egy and skills will give you the same brain work­out. If you pre­fer to walk, run, or use the machines in a gym, then use that time to focus on your breath­ing and/or tech­nique so that you get a med­i­ta­tive work­out. You feel extra refreshed when you’re done!

As men­tioned above, teams, clubs, and gyms also add to your social net­work which can help you stick with your pro­gram when your moti­va­tion is lag­ging. Sign up with a buddy, set some goals, and help keep each other going. Just be sure to get your heart rate up in your tar­get range for at least 20 min­utes, 3 times a week to reap the ben­e­fits of aer­o­bic exercise.

With a good work­out, you can accom­plish 3 of the 4 brain fit­ness pil­lars at one time: men­tal stim­u­la­tion, phys­i­cal exer­cise, and stress man­age­ment. Add in a bal­anced diet, and you’re ready to go! And as always, cross train by adding vari­ety and nov­elty to both your men­tal and phys­i­cal workouts.

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