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.


  1. Neal Cohen on December 14, 2006 at 4:35

    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 on December 14, 2006 at 5:07

    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 on December 15, 2006 at 9:15

    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 on December 15, 2006 at 4:09

    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 on December 17, 2006 at 2:40

    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 on December 18, 2006 at 12:18

    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 on February 21, 2008 at 11:56

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

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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