BOOST­ING YOUR BRAIN POWER

New Zealand Fitness - - IN THIS ISSUE -

with ex­er­cise By Dr He­lena Popovic

There’s been an amaz­ing new break­through in boost­ing our brain power, writes DR HE­LENA POPOVIC. Neu­ro­sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered overed some­thing that can raise oour IQ and rad­i­cally im­prove aca­demic adem­ica per­for­mance, men­tal stamina, mina,m mem­ory, cre­ativ­ity, con­cen­tra­tion, en­tra­tion,e prob­lem solv­ing and learn­ing ningn in all con­texts.

This will halve our risk of get­ting de­men­tia – in­clud­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease – and builds “cog­ni­tive re­serve” so that we re­main as sharp at 90 years as we were at 30. The re­mark­able rem­edy en­hances mood and is more ef fec­tive than Prozac and Zolof t in the treat­ment of de­pres­sion. And did I men­tion that it also boosts your sex life? And if ev­ery­one in New Zealand took it up, it would save the econ­omy over one bil­lion dol­lars a year. What is it? Phys­i­cal ex­er­cise. But that’s noth­ing new! Ev­ery­one knows that ex­er­cise strength­ens the im­mune sys­tem, pro­tects against stroke and heart at­tack, pre­vents type two di­a­betes, low­ers the risk of can­cer, keeps our bones strong, dis­si­pates stress and helps us get a good night’s sleep. What’s new is the dis­cover y that phys­i­cal ex­er­cise not only builds up our mus­cles, it builds up our brain!

Ex­er­cise is crit­i­cal to our over­all men­tal health, mood reg­u­la­tion, stress man­age­ment and ex­ec­u­tive (higher or­der) brain func tions such as crit­i­cal think­ing, de­ci­sion-mak­ing and flex­i­bil­ity of thought.

When we move our body, we make pro­teins that are car­ried in the blood­stream to the brain, where they in­duce the growth of new brain cells. One of these brain-boost­ing sub­stances is

called brain-de­rived-neu­rotrophic-fac­tor (BDNF) and it’s like a fer­tiliser for neu­rons. BDNF not only pro­motes the for­ma­tion of new brain cells, it also stim­u­lates the cre­ation of more con­nec­tions be­tween brain cells and this means more in­no­va­tive think­ing and bet­ter over­all brain per­for­mance. And the more we ex­er­cise, the more BDNF we pro­duce – at any age or stage of life.

Another ef­fec t of ex­er­cise is that we pro­duce a cock­tail of chem­i­cals called neu­ro­trans­mit­ters that in­crease our abil­ity to fo­cus, think clearly and process in­for­ma­tion. The brain works at its ab­so­lute best in the first hour af­ter we en­gage in any sort of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. So be­fore an im­por­tant meet­ing, job in­ter view, study ses­sion, exam or Ikea fur­ni­ture as­sem­bly, get mov­ing for 20 min­utes and you’ll per­form mea­sur­ably bet­ter.

In 2007, a Ger­man study found peo­ple learn vo­cab­u­lary words 20 per cent faster af­ter 20 min­utes of ex­er­cise. In 2004, re­searchers at Leeds Metropoli­tan Univer­sity in Eng­land recorded that work­ers who used their com­pany’s gym at lunch time for 30 to 60 min­utes – do­ing an aer­o­bic work­out or re­sis­tance train­ing – were more pro­duc­tive and felt bet­ter able to han­dle their work­loads. On the days they ex­er­cised, par­tic­i­pants re­ported manag­ing their time more ef­fec­tively, reach­ing dead­lines more eas­ily, in­ter­act­ing bet­ter with col­leagues and feel­ing less stressed and more en­er­getic, de­spite ex­pend­ing en­ergy at lunchtime.

A Ja­panese study found that af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in a 12-week ex­er­cise pro­gramme, peo­ple per­formed sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter in prob­lem-solv­ing tests. Even af­ter a sin­gle 30-minute ex­er­cise ses­sion, peo­ple are able to think more cre­atively.

In re­la­tion to mem­ory, ex­er­cise in­creases blood flow to a re­gion of the hip­pocam­pus (the part of the brain re­spon­si­ble for learn­ing and mem­ory for­ma­tion) called the den­tate gyrus. The more you ex­er­cise, the big­ger your den­tate gyrus and the bet­ter your mem­ory.

The most en­joy­able im­pact of ex­er­cise on the brain is that af­ter just 10 to 12 min­utes, we be­gin to re­lease feel good chem­i­cals: sero­tonin, en­dor­phins, no­ra­drenalin, dopamine and oxy­tocin. These chem­i­cals not only make us feel great, we think and learn bet­ter. So if you’re feel­ing men­tally stuck or in a bad mood, move for 12 min­utes and the cloud will lift. You’ll feel hap­pier and you’ll think more ef­fec tively.

Re­searchers from Duke Univer­sity made the New York Times with a study show­ing that aer­o­bic ex­er­cise and re­sis­tance train­ing were bet­ter than Prozac and Zoloft at treat­ing de­pres­sion. These find­ings have been repli­cated in many sub­se­quent stud­ies. In an in­ner city school in Iowa, the in­tro­duc­tion of daily ex­er­cise in­stead of just a cou­ple of phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion classes a week re­duced dis­ci­plinar y prob­lems by 67 per cent over the course of a year.

Another com­pelling rea­son to move our bod­ies is that ex­er­cise strength­ens our abil­ity to re­sist temp­ta­tion by rewiring our pre­frontal cor­tex – the part of the brain that con­trols im­pul­sive be­hav­iour. A study by the Univer­sity of Ex­eter found that tak­ing a walk re­duced choco­late crav­ings. Even in the most stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, a 15-minute walk could cut choco­late snack­ing by half!

And what about the bet­ter sex I promised at the star t of this ar­ti­cle? Har­vard Univer­sity re­searchers found that men who ex­er­cised vig­or­ously for 30 to 60 min­utes two to three times a week were half as likely to have erec­tion prob­lems as seden­tary men. And women with stronger core mus­cles are more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence or­gasms.

One ques­tion re­mains – what’s the best phys­i­cal ex­er­cise we can do to boost our brain power?

Neu­ro­sci­en­tists are still fig­ur­ing out the an­swer, but the bot­tom line is that any ex­er­cise is bet­ter than no ex­er­cise. Ex­er­cise that you en­joy and that you’ll keep up on a reg­u­lar ba­sis is more ben­e­fi­cial than ex­er­cise you force your­self to do. Ex­er­cise in com­pany has the added ben­e­fit of so­cial stim­u­la­tion – another brain booster in its own right.

Mar­tial ar ts are par­tic­u­larly help­ful for at­ten­tion deficit hy­per­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der, as are bal­let, fig­ure skat­ing, gym­nas­tics, rock climb­ing and skate­board­ing. Danc­ing and sports in­volv­ing new skill ac­qui­si­tion are ex­cel­lent. Any­thing that re­quires bal­ance, co-or­di­na­tion and the use of all four limbs is a bonus. And it’s im­por­tant to in­clude re­sis­tance train­ing to aid blood su­gar reg­u­la­tion and to sta­bilise brain chem­istry. But even a hum­ble stroll through your neigh­bour­hood will im­prove alert­ness, cog­ni­tion and long-term brain health.

Dr He­lena Popovic . . . “If ev­ery­one in New Zealand took up phys­i­cal ex­er­cise, it would save the econ­omy over one bil­lion dol­lars a year.

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