Introduction: Physical Activity and Brain Health
After reading this article, you’re going to truly grasp the importance of physical activity & movement of the human body as it relates to overall brain function, and especially cognitive enhancement.
“Our body is a wonderland!”
The remarkable infrastructure of our biological system is so complicated, that despite a voluptuous amount of meticulous research, this subject of science still remains under constant rediscovery ventures.
And here’s a little something to give you food for thought: there is a phenomenon known as muscular atrophy.
This phenomenon has many causes, but the one relevant to this article is rather thought provoking. If your body remains stationary for quite a long time, your muscles start deteriorating. (Why physical activity is super important!)
That’s because your body works on a supply and demand system; once a particular muscle is subject to minimal movements, it starts shrinking!
But here’s my question to you: do our minds work in a similar manner? (You know… as far as exercise is concerned?)
Well, don’t go anywhere, because we have some super interesting information on how to sharpen your mind with physical activity to enhance your overall wellbeing, along with some exciting tidbits about brain health as it pertains to physical activities!
Physical Activity & Exercises For Brain Health… Are You Kidding Me?
But really though, how does it work?
In case you do not know; exercise has an effect on our body that generates a certain response.
The responses are tabulated below:
|↑ Blood Flow||More blood reaches the brain; triggers a better performing functional cascade|
|↓ Inflammation||You get rid of many toxins via sweat and let’s not undermine the benefits of an increased metabolism!|
|↓ Stress Hormone Release||Your body is geared to fight against free radicals|
|Release of Growth Hormones||Lung expansion and high quality bone & muscle production|
Yes, you heard that right – physical exercises DO affect your brain health in the most peculiar ways.
Which brings us to the next section of our article.
But in order to understand neuroplasticity, we need to comprehend two very interesting components of our body; the grey & white matter.
Remember we talked about the structure of a neuron?
A neuron has arm-like extensions called dendrites and axons, which act as the hands of the cell body to pass over information and substances.
Now, the white matter is part of the central nervous system and contains these axons.
Their function is self-explanatory: they are the relaying tools for transmission of information to the
Now this is the hub of all things intellectual and cognitive!
The grey matter is a collection of the neuronal cell bodies, minus the axons.
Where the axons serve as helping hands in passing on information, the neurons act as the central intelligence arena of what makes up the grey matter!
You can think of them as intelligence centers; the more the grey matter, the more intelligent a person can become!
But why am I telling you this?
Because some physical activities / physical exercises ‘CAN’ increase grey matter in the brain! So stay tuned!
This term is mostly self-explanatory.
It refers to the changes (or plasticity) that your brain can undergo.
Let’s not get too complicated…
Here are a set of changes that result from neuroplasticity; all changes are of course, beneficial to the mind and body!
- Increases in blood vessels → leads to enhanced circulation
- Increased number of synapses → faster and more efficient transmission
- Increase in brain volume → need I say more?
- Increase in nerve cells→ further contributes to increased brain volume
It sounds crazy, but it’s true!
Yoga helps you stimulate blood flow; we have already talked about the importance of blood flow to the brain.
Increased blood flow means more frequent access to the nutrients which in turn affects the performance of the brain.
It also helps you relieve stress! We often underestimate the vehement power of stress.
Now that you know the mechanism of how yoga works, here are the benefits you can expect that will contribute to an increased brain volume:
- Special breathing exercises play an important role in enhancing synchrony between the right and left lobes of your brain
- Enhances cognition and improves your thinking capacity
- Focuses of reinforcement of memory power
- Equips you with the ability to remain calm, even in alarming situation (this leads to better decision making skills)
For the above mentioned benefits, yoga is frequently practiced by individuals with ADHD or Alzheimer’s.
I’m about to tell you something really surprising.
We all look down at our phone screens, right?
That posture is known as the ‘forward head posture’ or FHP.
The FHP reduces your lung capacity; the highest lung capacity can be achieved with a straight posture with minimum or no head tilt.
A reduced lung capacity means that your brain would be receiving a relatively diminished supply of oxygen.
But let’s turn the tables by posing a question:
How much time do we spend on our phones?
Technology is a bliss, but there’s no denying to the fact that it has its flaws.
Presuming we’re on our phones 8 hours a day, our brain would be functioning on a reduced potential during that time.
And even later!
We all know it’s useless trying to reduce our screen time, so here’s a quick exercise to help you boost your brain:
- Stand tall and straight with your feet apart, and your hands placed on your hips
- Breath deeply for at least two minutes
You can play this simple trick frequently throughout the day!
Try it, it’s proven by science!
You can also contribute to a certain phenomenon known as ‘brain drain’ during your sleep!
Unlike our excretory system, our brain goes through a lengthy process to eliminate and fight toxins.
This means that even while you’re asleep, something as simple as a balanced posture can do wonders for your brain!
Meditation has always been regarded as a spiritual practice, but very few people know that it most certainly contributes to an increased amount of grey matter!
- Increasing cortical thickness of our brain (this is proven by a scientific research conducted in 2005)
- It prevents the amygdala from becoming a dominatrix! Your amygdala is associated with negative emotions, mainly fear
- Increases grey matter by promoting self-directed neuroplasticity (we’ll get to that in a bit)
- Promotes peace and tranquility within you, which relaxes your brain to the extent that it gears itself to build up more of itself!
To address the relatively familiar term ‘self-directed’ neuroplasticity; it is simply a self-automated version of neuroplasticity.
Where YOU are providing your brain the stimulus to hit its highest functioning ability.
But here’s the catch: meditation works very slowly and its effects are often visible silently.
You need to adopt meditation as a daily ritual or habit.
You know how they say age is just a number?
Meditation actually proves it!
It isn’t just their body that is healthy, but their mind too! It won’t be wrong to say that body and mind are correlated entities, one affects another.
At the start of this article, I mentioned the phenomenon of muscular atrophy.
I’m not saying that being lazy will lead to the deterioration of your muscles, but just try to get what our body is trying to tell us via this phenomenon.
If a body part is rendered inactive, it starts to diminish in size. Even though this can not literally be applied to the brain, I’m presuming you get the idea of what I’m talking about.
So what does physical exercise do for the brain?
Physical exercise involves aerobic respiration, which is linked to pushing your lungs to their maximum capacity.
It increases blood flow and generates a lot of energy.
And high intensity workouts which involve a lot of aerobic respiration are linked to generation of new brain cells in rodents!
A good circulation contributes towards the manufacturing and functioning of cells to their maximum potential. And let’s not forget that cells are the basic form of human life!
After a good workout session or even a simple jog, you’ll definitely feel that your mood has elevated and your body feels more energetic. Compounded daily, you can really see the effects accumulate. Similar to how taking nootropics everyday works.
Exercise can also trigger the release of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factors!
The BDNFs are associated with nerve growth stimulation.
So next time you perform any type of physical exercise, do know that it is not only promoting weight loss and cardiovascular health, but also enhancing your brain’s healthy function at the same time!
But it caters to so many hidden benefits without you having to pick up any of those heavy dumbbells! Walking daily will improve your blood circulation and also puts your muscles to good (but subtle) use.
However, its most predominant effect is the calming effect it renders to the brain.
It will cause the release of endorphins to elevate your mood whereas taking deep breaths will ensure fresh oxygen delivered to your brain in heaped amounts.
Here are a few benefits that you can achieve by making walking your daily habit:
- It helps you relieve anxiety, stress while reducing the chances of you getting depression
- Enhances memory power and induces better focusing abilities
- Excellent prerequisite for people with Alzheimer’s or those that feel they are at risk of it
- Reinforces the abilities of your Hippocampus; a part of the brain that is critically essential for storing thoughts and emotions
- Ignites your inner creative and enhances your thinking skills
- Improves cognition
Who knew that a form of physical exercise like stretching would be indirectly beneficial to your brain health?
Yes, stretching does affect your brain!
Have you ever sat in a certain position for a long time, after which all your muscles become sore?
So you decide to stretch and it soothes your nerves and relieves that pain! Stretching doesn’t just do good to the muscles, but your brain too! It is associated with expanding the size of your Hippocampus!
And since it is a form of exercise, it comes with all those circulatory benefits for the brain.
Stretching also helps you generate a lot of energy!
Do You Like Complex & Challenging Brain Puzzles?
Even though this article does mostly emphasize on the benefits of physical exercise to the brain, there’s no harm in putting in some interesting hacks in!
Mind games are a thing; they can sharpen your brain along with improving cognitive skills.
And not just that, they also polish your thinking and decision making skills.
Brain stimulating activities like puzzles are a hybrid duo of knowledge and exercise.
Instead of wasting your time scrolling through useless stuff on the web, why not focus on some fun and exciting activities to amp up your brain?
Here are a few of these mind games to put your brain to good use:
Puzzles, Chess, Sudoku or Scrabble
These games activate your brain, which relays important information for you to employ the best decisions.
Many other games can also be included in this category.
Unleash Your Inner Creative
So what if you think you can’t draw or paint?
Talents are often discovered by accidents and there’s no harm trying!
Coloring is the new soothing therapy!
A lot of coloring books contain mandelas, exquisite florals or satisfying geometric patterns that help you relieve stress.
Test Your Senses
Something as fun as baking involves the use of all 5 of your senses!
Try doing tasks that put those senses to good use.
Sports like Tennis or Badminton requires you to assess speed, time and distance simultaneously.
Playing such games at a regular pace can enhance your cognitive and fine motor skills!
Add More To Your Skills
You could either convert your skill into a meta-skill, by taking it to the next level of refinement.
Learning a new language could be considered a meta-skill.
Or simply acquire a new skill.
Adding to your skills improves memory by many folds!
Even something as plain as stitching or gardening can do wonders!
Become A Teacher
Now that you’ve acquired a certain skill set or some form of knowledge, pass it on!
It will not only benefit the individual you’re teaching, but will also polish your skills further!
Read More, Talk Less!
Try becoming a more observant person.
Conversing and being socially pleasing is a benefit, but excessive talking just robs the whole essence.
Reading books is an excellent way to improve your vocabulary and boost your brain.
FYI: Elon Musk used to read two books a day!
It also goes vice versa.
Perhaps the most neglected debate is that of the intimate connection between the mind and the body. A healthy mind would translate into a healthy body; hence proving the importance of mental wellbeing.
A very renowned example is that of depression.
It would be no less than an insult to science if one would think that depression has no effect on the physical wellbeing of an individual.
So many chronic illnesses are associated with depression.
Depression also lowers the immune system, which can give rise to unprecedented illnesses; those that one could never have imagined to inflict upon him/herself.
These include diabetes, cancer, strokes and many other alarming diseases.
All of this is backed up by scientific research.
Make sure to check out our other articles on mood & mindset, which will help you hack into a relaxing and happy life.
Please consider sharing this article with your friends, and post on social media if you feel you’ve learned something beneficial! It really helps us a lot 🙂