Brain Fit

Do you ever find yourself fired up to exercise, join the gym or sign up for that bootcamp, only to lose enthusiasm a few weeks later as the busy-ness of life gets in the way?

We all know that taking care of our physical health involves moving our bodies, having a healthy diet and attending to our medical needs. So why do we not prioritize daily exercise as a non-negotiable in our calendar?

I am the biggest culprit in this regard – but think I have stumbled on a motivational intervention by recently reading a fabulous book called ‘Healthy Brain, Happy Life’ by Dr Wendy Suzuki. I picked it up at an airport bookstore recently, and couldn’t put it down on the flight. Wendy was at the pinnacle of her scientific career (as a neuroscientist) when she started to go to the gym, and to her surprise began to not only get fitter, but became mentally sharper, had more energy and her memory improved! In other words, she became more ‘brain fit’.

This book has really has changed the way I think about exercise, and I believe the change I am feeling will be sustainable because now things are starting to make more sense to me! I’d love to share my ‘aha’ moment with you!

It’s well known that exercising helps our mood by raising levels of the neurotransmitters, serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in our brain – what I hadn’t realised is that is actually kick starts neuroplastic change and neurogenesis (the birth of new brain cells) in the hippocampus (an area of the brain crucial for forming long term memories). When we are introduced to someone new, a group of cells in the hippocampus are firing madly to create the new name association!

So when we move our body, we directly change our brain – and our memory improves! We quite literally become more ‘brain fit!’

According to Dr Suzuki’s research, intentional aerobic exercise (such as calling out or singing/moving your body) whilst exercising enhances the effect on our brain even more! One minute of a power pose even lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases levels of testosterone. No wonder the All Blacks have such an advantage on the rugby field when they perform the Haka! They’re less stressed, more focused and more fired up to win!

So how can we blend exercise into our lives on a regular basis? Many of us love walking, cycling, dancing, hiking, Thai Chi, Tae Kwondo and the gym? But what about others of us who are a bit ‘allergic’ to more formal exercise and simply want the ‘brain fit’ benefits that come from keeping our bodies moving!

Apparently it only takes four minutes, a couple of times a day, along the lines of:-

  • Doing star jumps during every TV advertisement
  • Listening to our favourite music playlist while doing housework , and dancing along at the same time
  • Playing more often with our pet
  • Standing while reading and doing knee squats against a wall
  • At work, going to the bathroom on another floor and using the stairs, not the elevator
  • Getting off the bus/train a few stops earlier, and walking the rest of the way

I am feeling fired up and going to draw on my character strength of perseverance to stick to my new exercise goals!

I’d like to leave you with some self reflective questions:-

  • How prepared are you to challenge yourself to make some changes to your exercise routine?
  • When is the best time of your day for you to exercise?
  • Are you willing to let go of some bad habits and build in a new way of thinking about exercise?
  • Have you ever considered doing something spontaneous and playful –that gets you moving!
  • Who could you ask to join in with you as you start making some changes to your exercise habits?
  • What benefits will these new routines make to your life, and most especially to your brain?

I’m looking forward to hearing all about your ‘brain fit’ exercise plans, and the amazing benefits you’re experiencing as a result!

Cheers
Alison