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I am convinced and research is showing that physical exercise is the number one, absolute best thing a person can do for their brain and body. While the many benefits of a workout are well-known for the rest of body, the incredible advantages for the brain are not common knowledge.

So much evidence is accumulating that physical exercise is a miracle potion for getting and keeping the brain healthy at any age.  Research has proven that even moderate exercise, such as walking at a comfortable pace for 40 minutes three times a week, can enhance the connectivity of brain circuits, combat decline in function associated with aging and increase performance on cognitive tasks. The exact amount or intensity of the exercise required has not been determined, although it appears that the minimum is thankfully low.  Studies have even shown that strength training can have lasting cognitive benefits.

Exercise Grows New Brain Cells

Moving your body increases the blood flow to the brain which, in turn, elevates oxygen levels in the brain. Exercise promotes neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, the pro­duc­tion of new neurons and the con­nec­tions between neu­rons.

According to an online article, Move Your Feet, Grow New Neurons? Exercise-Induced Neurogenesis Shown in Humans, by Brenda Patoine :

Exercise mobilizes the molecular machinery to improve brain health and cognition,” says Carl Cotman, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Irvine. “It increases metabolism in the brain and generally makes brain cells healthier; it even helps clear out Alzheimer’s pathology in mouse models.”

Exercise Helped My Injured Brain Recover

Physical exercise was a huge part of my recovery from a serious brain injury.  Once I learned how beneficial exercise is for the brain, my life became all about encouraging neuroplasticity and putting it to work for me in my own brain.   Self-directed neuroplasticity was the key to my recovery, I believe.

For the first months after the injury,  I went to the Y, working out regularly on the elliptical machine, Stairmaster, or treadmill and took classes.  Well, I tried to participate as best as I could in the group classes.  Because my timing and coordination were way off, I looked downright goofy.   By repeatedly attempting these movements, I forced my brain to make new connections to master the exact things that were difficult.   I’d sweated regularly my entire adult life motivated by vanity up until this point.  Little did I know how well my ego would later serve me.

Upon continuing to learn more about how to better my brain, at ten months post injury, I began doing cardiovascular activity every day, usually 45 minutes to an hour, but, no less than 30 minutes. Everyday. No excuses. I remember running in the pouring rain and all bundled up in the snow with only my eyes exposed.   When it came to working out without fail, I had a compulsive drive and hyperfocus because I desperately wanted to recover, because my brain wasn’t functioning optimally, and because I’d had an inclination to be obsessive/compulsive my whole life.

While I’d applied this laser beam focus towards many things that weren’t to my benefit in the past, such as a man or having an immaculate house, this trait helped me tremendously now. I exercised almost every day for over two years.  I also added yoga to the mix but didn’t count it as exercise.  It was my relaxation.

It Can Help Your Brain Too!

Thankfully, I did recover far beyond what the medical community predicted and enjoyed the added benefit of getting in the best shape of my life in my late forties no less! Still to this day, five years post injury, I do cardiovascular exercise or yoga every day because I feel strongly that these activities are crucial to my mental and physical health as I age. They have become so much a part of my lifestyle that I just don’t feel right if I don’t do them, and I find them enjoyable.  If exercising can dramatically help an injured brain recover, just think of what it could do for a brain that isn’t injured!

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  1. Debbie,

    Great info. My own groundbreaking research, conducted in 1992 and winner of the Dissertation of the Year Award by the American Psychological Association showed that people who exercise performed much better in non-athletic stressful situations than people who didn’t exercise. It appears the research has defined the mechanisms by which the improvement in performance was achieved. Hurrah!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Tony, that is good to know. I can tell you that exercise, like your study confirmed, helps me in all areas of life. We were meant to move. The sedentary lives most lead today are so far from what is natural to us as a species. Our bodies and brains need to move.

  2. John Graham Reply

    After 4 years of increased exercise, I am now at 71, much fitter and more alert than I was in my 50s. Memeory and critical thinking is better.I cycle through hills 3 days per week.Mondays ride was 151 km.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      John, thanks for commenting and great for you for exercising and reaping the benefits! The better it gets, the better it gets! Sounds like you would agree with me that it is the fountain of youth.

  3. I think you are so right about exercise, Debbie. It’s a challenge to get people to do it even if they acknowledge it’s important. Maybe because it requires a certain level of discomfort. I’m not sure. Exercise used to be a central part of education when I was a kid, but it gradually got shifted to only training the star athletes instead of everyone. There’s lots of research indicating that if you make exercise a habit when young, it will remain a lifelong one. It has to be balanced with truthful information about nutrition, which has also become occult knowledge somehow. Plus, there needs to be general consensus to label food products honestly, and regulate the additives like high-fructose corn syrup. Plenty to work on. You’re doing great!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Oh yes, there is so much to work on. We are doing the future generations a huge disservice by not making exercise an important cornerstone of the education system anymore. Numerous studies have shown that test scores go up and behavior problems go down when they exercise. Plus, it will instill a habit in them hopefully. Then, to feed them actually healthy food at lunch that fuels their brains and bodies and does not just fill them up…yes, lots to do!

  4. Debbie,

    I am so impressed by your laser like focus…you might even get me going. I’m just so not inclined to physical exercise. But I do love to walk and the word even in “moderation” appeals to me. You may just have gotten me back on track…at least moderately! 🙂

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      My focus was extreme at one time, but it served me well. I tend to still fight this tendency and have to make a conscious effort to relax it a little. I want to encourage you to walk. It will make a difference!

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