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Brain Facts:
Exercise

 

Topic Discussion Resource

Benefits

Exercise makes you muscles and bones stronger, and improves your strength and balance. It helps regulate your appetite, changes your blood lipid profile, reduces you risk for more than a dozen types of cancer, improves the immune system and buffers against the toxic effects of stress. By enriching your cardiovascular system, exercise decreases your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

John Medina, PhD
Brain Rules; 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
p.24

Blood Flow

When you exercise, you increase blood flow across the tissues of your body. That is because exercise stimulates the blood vessels to create a powerful, flow-regulating molecule call nitric oxide. As the flow improves, the body makes new blood vessels, which penetrate deeper and deeper into the tissues of the body. This allows more access to the bloodstream’s goods and services, which include food distribution and waste disposal. The more you exercise, the more tissues you can feed and the more toxic waste you can remove.

John Medina, PhD
Brain Rules; 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
p.22

Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor

At the molecular level, early studies indicate that exercise also stimulates one of the brain’s most powerful growth factors, BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). BDNF aids in the development of healthy tissue. BDNF exerts a fertilizer-like growth effect on certain neurons in the brain. The protein keeps existing neurons young and healthy, rending them much more willing to connect with one another. It also encourages neurogenesis, the formation of new cells in the brain. The cells most sensitive to this are the hippocampus, inside the very regions deeply involved in human cognition. Exercise increases the level of usable BDNF inside those cells.

John Medina, PhD
Brain Rules; 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
p.22

Cognitive Comeback

Physical activity is cognitive candy. We can make a species-wide athletic comeback. All we have to do is move.

John Medina, PhD
Brain Rules; 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
p.23

Dancing

Dancing involves brain regions that go beyond just making voluntary movements.

Anterior vermis—This part of the cerebellum seems to act like a metronome, taking data from the spinal cord and helping synchronize dance steps to music.

Medial geniculation nucleus—This step along the lower auditory pathway seems to help set the brain’s metronome and connects directly to the cerebellum without communicating with the higher auditory areas in the cortex. It underlies that tendency to unconsciously tap our toes or sway to music.

Precuneus—The precuneus has a sensory-based “map” of your body. It helps plot a dancer’s path from a body-centered perspective.

Judith Horstman
The Scientific American Day in the Life of Your Brain - Mental Choreography

Dementia / Alzheimer’s

Your lifetime risk for general dementia is literally cut in half if you participate in leisure-time physical activities. Aerobic exercise seems to be the key. With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater: Such exercise lowers your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent

John Medina, PhD
Brain Rules; 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
p.16

Dentate Gyrus

Imaging studies have shown that exercise literally increases blood volume in a region of the brain call the dentate gyrus. The dentate gyrus is a vital constituent of the hippocampus, a region deeply involved in memory formation.

John Medina, PhD
Brain Rules; 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
p.22

Gold Standard

The gold standard appears to be aerobic exercise, 30 minutes at a clip, two or three times a week. Add a strengthening regimen and you get even more cognitive benefits.

Too much exercise and exhaustion can hurt cognition.

John Medina, PhD
Brain Rules; 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
p.15

How Much

The researchers showed you have to participate in some form of exercise just twice a week to get the benefit. Bump it up to 20-minute walk each day, and you can cut your risk of having a stroke—one of the leading causes of mental disability in the elderly—by 57 percent.

John Medina, PhD
Brain Rules; 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
p.16

Neurotransmitters

Exercise regulates the release of the three neurotransmitters most commonly associated with the maintenance of mental health: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

John Medina, PhD
Brain Rules; 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
p.17

Plasticity and exercise

The concept of plasticity is fundamental to understanding how the brain works and how exercise optimizes brain function for fostering quality.

John Ratey, MD
Spark
p.  36

Weight Loss

Exercise can boost metabolism by 20-30 percent, and the effects last up to fifteen hours. Yoga may be particularly good exercise because many people find that it also reduces stress.

Sandra Aamodt, PhD and Sam Wang, PhD
Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose our Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life
p. 36

 

 


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