How exercise is good for your brain as well as your body

By Michelle Dickinson 21/05/2015

In this age of screen driven office life, it’s easy to forget that we are actually built to move all day.  Our caveman self didn’t sit hunched over a desk staring at the same spot, our caveman self was aware of our environment around us, listening, seeing, smelling, touching, stimulating all of our senses to stimulate our brain.  We hunted by using our brain to find, hide and store food, then used our memory to retrieve the food when we needed it.  We did this well because we were using our bodies constantly, running around, chasing prey, carrying out physical tasks, our brains and our bodies worked as one.

The technology era we live in today seems to treat our brains and our bodies as if they were totally separate and independent of each other.  We tend to either use one or the other but our typical workplace is not set up to help us use both at the same time.

So what happens to our brains when we move our bodies? Science shows something very interesting:

brain-scan-003This research study shows that you don’t need to be a marathon runner to improve your brain. Just a brisk walk in this experiment caused blood to flow to the brain carrying oxygen and nutrients with it resulting in the electrophysiological plots above.  The plots represent the brain processing capacity and mental workload during cognitive tasks. The red colouring represents the greatest amplitude, the blue colouring represents the lowest amplitude.  In summary, red is good and the image above shows that that even a 20 minute walk increases our brain power.

Validating the 20 minutes theory, another study showed aerobic exercise helped with information processing and memory functions, even down to the cellular level where the amount of neurotrophin growth factors your brain produces increases making it easier to grow new brain cell (neuron) connections.

In addition to better brain power, you also feel happier as exercise releases endorphins, a chemical designed to fight stress with the same effective power of antidepressant drugs!  This is commonly known as runners high and in addition to making you feel happier it is also linked to more brain cell growth in the hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for learning and memory.

Note – you don’t have to run to achieve runners high, it’s just an expression that is used to describe the good feelings you get after exercising.

For me, I have a thing for the ocean, I love the feeling of water on my skin, the openness of a vast sea and the total ability to switch off from technology for a while.  My brain boosting treat is kitesurfing, but that’s the thing about exercise, it’s all about finding the activity that works for you.

Me, helping my brain to perform better by enjoying my favourite sport of kitesurfing.

Me, helping my brain to perform better by enjoying my favourite sport of kitesurfing.

It doesn’t take much, a simple walk through a park or quick bike around the neighbourhood, try different things to find the one you like the most.

I used to feel guilty about exercise, in a busy world full of meetings, and deadlines, taking time out to have ‘fun’ seemed like a waste of time that I could be using to work.

Now I know that to achieve that deadline and create the best work I possibly can, daily exercise is crucial to help my brain perform to the best of its ability.

So I think it’s time to stop feeling guilty about taking time out for you, science says its better for your body, your mind and your business.