Physical Activity and the Brain


As the warm summer weather approaches, and with it the arrival of beach trips and days at the pool, we often find ourselves wanting to get in better shape, to shed the pounds we put on during our winter hibernation. (Thank you, holiday-themed cookies.) Though the want to look like a California dreamer in last year’s bikini is often motivation enough to hit the gym come spring, it needn’t be the sole catalyst getting you in motion. In fact, looking at exercise as a way to improve both your physical and mental well-being can be just the inspiration you need to stay active year-round.
SHARPENING YOUR MIND: Remember Sudoku? That 9×9 grid-like mathematical game that skyrocketed in popularity in the mid-2000s? Research says the puzzle can help delay dementia and keep your mind sharp by teaching you to think in a whole new way. The first few games are challenging, impossible even. With time, however, the puzzles become easier, quicker to do, and you find yourself moving from beginner, to intermediate, and, if you stick with it, maybe even difficult. Sudoku became the new Sunday Crossword. Now? Exercise can become your new Sudoku.
A study done at the University of British Columbia attempted to understand this. What they found was that when you participate in regular exercise, your hippocampus—the region of the brain associated with memory and learning—grows in size. Another study, published by Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience and quoted in the New York Times, proposes that regular exercise can help slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia that attacks memory, thinking and behavior.
At the very least, regular exercise increases oxygen and blood flow in the brain, which in turn increases mental sharpness. Like with Sudoku, the more you do, the stronger your brain becomes.
THE RUNNER’S HIGH: If you’re not a runner, this idea of a “runner’s high” can often feel like a falsified sentiment designed to put a positive spin on a seemingly torturous activity. If running is a cult, the runner’s high is the metaphorical Kool-Aid. Only, what we’re being sold isn’t propaganda. It’s real. Science tells us so.
Drink, for a second, this cup of Kool-Aid:
Endorphins, a chemical released during physical activity, running for example, make you feel better! Happier! Less stressed! Which means, sustained involvement in exercise—releasing more endorphins—can help alleviate anxiety, depression, improve sleep, boost your self-confidence, and enhance your overall outlook on life.
Endorphins are our body’s natural drug, helping to relieve pain in a way similar to morphine. Only endorphins are natural, and we don’t grow dependent on or addicted to them.
Powerful though they may be, endorphins may not overcome the pain that often accompanies a newcomer on the track (or road, or treadmill), which is why you have to keep going. A reason for abandoning our “WORK OUT MORE” New Year’s Resolutions on January fourth is the lack of immediate gratification. It’s the result of the “I’ve been working out four days and haven’t lost 25 pounds!!” sentiment. We want to feel good instantly. Look better immediately. When that doesn’t happen, we forgo the working out, the resolutions, and find ourselves in the Tim Horton’s Drive-thru. Because donuts? They make you feel good without delay. The only thing arriving belatedly then is a sugar crash and, more often than not, regret.
Exercise, like most worthwhile ventures in life, is hard work. It takes commitment, practice, and dedication. It takes an understanding that the physical results—the weight loss, the toned abs, the want to prance around the beach in a bikini—won’t be instantaneous, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t still reaping the benefits—mentally and emotionally—on the inside.
If you’re looking to jumpstart your exercise routine into gear, want to get into better shape, or simply prefer working out in a class setting, Coastal Sports and Wellness Inc. has you covered with our personal training and exercise class options.
To book a personal training appointment with Leanne or to sign up for the 10 Week Boot Camp (beginning June 1), give us a call at 902.404.8034.