Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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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12 Responses

  1. Neal Cohen says:

    Some people benefit from using a personal trainer. Unlike exercise, which is hopefully a life long commitment, a personal trainer can be used in a limited fashion.

    Some people benefit from a personal trainer in the early stages of an exercise program. In a sense, the trainer helps the individual get “up and running.”

    Other people may benefit from utilizing a trainer when they start to feel “stale” or when it appears that enthusiasm is waning. If the personal trainer will train two people at the same time, a training partner can help manage the expense of personal training. An additional benefit of sharing the expense of a trainer is that when training services are no longer needed, one has the training partner for ongoing support.

    I expect that in the near future brain fitness will be fully integrated into all aspects of self care; once can then expect a brain fitness evaluation as part of an overall fitness evaluation.

  2. Caroline says:

    Great comment Neal. Coaches and/or trainers are a great asset when learning anything. Whether a tutor for a new class, a trainer for a new fitness program, a lifestyle coach, or anyone else. I have a wonderful coach for tennis who helps me avoid frustration (stress) by giving me helpful advice as I need it and just in general supports my endeavor to improve. Having support makes a big difference at all levels, whether you use that coaching on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis.

  3. eleanor says:

    I missed a swimming session this week due to flu – and I’ve really noticed the difference!

    The Government is really starting to push fitness and exercise (but not brain fitness.. yet!) here in the UK, as child obesity rates are now the highest in Europe, and it’s been predicted that our National Health Service could actually be bankrupted by the increasing problems associated with it.

  4. Caroline says:

    Sorry to hear about the flu Eleanor! Hope you can hit the pool again soon.

    Good to hear physical exercse is being promoted – now we just need to let the powers that be know about brain exercise so that everyone uses ALL of their muscles (both mental and physical!).

    Get well soon!

  5. Todd Gebow says:

    I was involved in an accident that resulted in a brain injury. I had accepted the fact that I was going to be an obese, physically disabled individual for the rest of my life. Tht was until I met a person that showed me the proper way to exercise and control my breath. I am now an exercise addict (great, another addiction) and I am in school to be a physical therapist.
    Exercise is more than beneficial for you cardiovascular, circulatory, and muscle health. It has amazing ramifications upon your mental health. Once the body becomes syncronized, it eases the mental strain upon ones mind. It allows easier and more free thought because the thought process is not always involved in thoughts of, “Is this right? Does it look ok?”
    I am still physically disabled and will be for life but I no longer see myself as someone who is in need of assistance All because I learned to exercise properly.

  6. Caroline says:

    Wow. Good for you, Todd. You will be such an example to other people – not only disabled but also people who face less physical obstacles. Good luck in school and keep working out!

  7. kinu says:

    hmmmm thats cool exer. i m doing it and my mind is tired now….

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