How Training Can Boost Your Brain Power

I don’t fit the niche of fitness professionals very well, I don’t fit into the bikini or bodybuilding sector. I don’t do crossfit. I am not an elite endurance athlete turned fitness guru.

Instead of that I do martial arts, lift, run, rock climb, & archery. I do all of this at least 3 days a week each. Sometimes just for 20 min at a time but I do it regularly. I like to challenge my body in many different ways. I am not an elite at anything, but I am pretty decent at any of those things (well rock climbing is new, so still learning).

What does this all have to do with training and brain power?

Most of us are not aiming to become fitness models (nothing wrong with that), elite endurance athletes or even do crazy things like Spartan Races. It is not necessary.

 

But moving your body vigorously is not optional; not just because you want to be thinner, or stronger, or fitter, or etc. but because if you want to age gracefully, or perform better at your job, have more fun or be more active in your personal life, exercise is a crucial component that will help you to keep your marbles together. We will bring discuss this more later. First though the reasons why people don’t exercise.

The reasons not to exercise

I often get to hear the following statements when I mention that working out is important:

  1. I am fine, I don’t feel anything negative: Actions do not always have an immediate, tangible impact. They might compound over time. Who knows, you not being active now might lead to an earlier onset of dementia, an earlier heart attack, etc., you having high blood pressure.
  2. I don’t have time / I am too busy: The fact of life is, that we are all busy. The mother with kids, the business person, the employee. We all have busy lives. They won’t get any less busy. Something usually takes its place. The “I do it later” never comes. In the meantime: You have 10 min before work, at lunch, in between whatever to do something every day. If you did only 10 min a day you sure won’t become a fitness model but you will be healthier and out of about 119 waking hours in a week that would be only 0.9% of your waking time. I guess being too busy is an excuse after all.
  3. I know it is important but xyz hurts: We all have pain and aches. Yes, yours might be a little bit worse than most of ours because you had: an accident, bad arthritis, were born with it, etc. Regardless, there is something you can do. Adjust your workouts to work around your limitations. If Paraplegics can play basketball, if wounded veterans with only 1 functioning limb can conquer a marathon, you can find a way to work around your limitation.  
  4. There is nothing I can do about it, it is hereditary: This is my most favorite one. Throwing up your hands and surrendering is not an option, not unless you DO want to die early or have a miserable life.  It is a choice after all. Just because you might be predisposed to having an issue, does not mean you have to actively make it worse by sitting on your butt. My family is riddled with cancer, I am not going to say: F*** it, I cannot do anything about it, and not do anything to live healthier, make better choices and at least have a better quality of life should cancer strike me down, which is not for certain anyway. I will make an effort, I will struggle and fail many times, but I will give it a shot.

Back on Track

I digressed. This blog post is about the brain and the effect exercise can have on it. These are the effects that exercise has on the brain:

  • Cardiovascular exercise longer than 20-30 min can significantly improve cognitive abilities in people with mental impairments.
  • In healthy, younger adults short high intensity bouts and longer bouts of lower intensity exercise seem to lead to an increased release of BDNF (a factor that stimulates the formation of new brain cells.
  • Regular exercise improves the circulation to the brain and reduces the risk of loss of brain function caused by cerebrovascular atherosclerosis (clogged arteries)
  • Strength training effects on brain health are currently not conclusive enough yet to make a clear statement but it looks positive
  • Positive effects can also be gained from more mundane tasks like driveway basketball, raking leaves, snow shoveling, yard work, etc.
  • Physically fit seniors do significantly better in cognitive tasks than unfit seniors.
  • Regular exercise reduces the loss in gray matter upstairs 🙂 and improves the mental fitness of older adults
  • Stretching and “Toning” exercises by themselves do not have the same positive effect as cardiovascular exercise on the brain
  • Adults who engaged in physical sports, exercise and fitness during their midlife phase suffered significantly less from dementia later on.
  • Exercise might reduce inflammatory processes that interrupt growth stimulation in the brain

The list of research goes on and on and on. It is time to act today. If you want to have an increased chance of aging gracefully, enjoy a full life as a senior it is time to make a decision when you are young or middle aged.

Don’t forget, I am only talking about the effects on the brain at the moment. There is so much more evidence on positive outcomes in other areas.

 

So what can you do?

Well, the best course of action is having a mixture of cardiovascular activity, balance, challenging coordination exercises etc.  When you are done with that, decide to have a social life. Being socially active seems to increase brain power as well 🙂

 

  • 3-4 days a week cardiovascular activities: pick up basketball, tennis, running, walking, hiking, nordic hiking, swimming, elliptical, rowing, martial arts, etc.
  • 2-3 days a week of coordinative challenging activities: tennis, basketball, tai chi, martial arts, etc.
  • 1-3 days of active housework: repairs, yard work, etc.
  • Get a social life

Those lists are by no means complete but they give you an idea of the things you can do. It is clearly not just done by doing one thing one time a week.

Now, if you are not able to do all of these things, don’t despair. Some action is better than no action. I am a person that has a tendency to be all or nothing. That has shown to be detrimental as I was growing my business. I had to learn that sometimes a little is still good. Just do as much as you can. Start with less instead of packing your plate full. Do 10 min every day and work yourself up from there.

 

The message is clear:

 

Conclusion

Be active, do some cardiovascular activity regularly every week and challenge your coordinative system to have a good chance at aging gracefully and have the opportunity to not just perform better when young but have an improved quality of life when older.

Have an awesome day,

 

Michael

 

Resources:

http://jap.physiology.org/content/111/5/1505.short

http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)65219-1/fulltext?refuid=S1064-7481(13)00165-6&refissn=1064-7481

http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/brain-power-workout

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nicole_Berchtold/publication/6075740_Exercise_Builds_Brain_Health_Key_Roles_of_Growth_Factor_Cascades_and_Inflammation/links/0fcfd50ef33d16a46f000000.pdf

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