As Plato phrased it “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means: education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection”. Recent neurobiological research indicates that for optimal physical and mental acuity, EXERCISE IS ESSENTIAL.
When we think of diseases related to inactivity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and osteoarthritis pop into mind. Now add depression, anxiety disorders, stress related diseases, and cognitive diseases-(i.e. Alzheimer’s, dementia) to the list. Our neurochemical system works best when we incorporate physical activity. It is no coincidence that advice from sprightly and sharp nonagenarians is always “stay active both mentally and physically, that is what has keeps me young”.
Learning and exercise. It was once thought that when it comes to brain neurons,you "got what you got" . Neuroscience now tells us that our brains are plastic and malleable. It is possible to rewire old pathways into new and improved pathways. There are key players in the formation, and health of our brain neurons. Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)-this is likened to the fertilizer of the brain. Dopamine, Serotonin, and Norepinephrine are neurotransmitters that are neuroregulators. They fine tune the volume of chatter in our brains, and assist in balancing our neurochemicals. These are also related to a sense of well being, mood, motivation, and attention. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that initiates the formation of neural connection(building brain cells), an integral part of learning. These are the roads that our memories travel on. Repetition in learning assists in making our synapses and connections stronger. These and others neurochemicals are found in greater quantities following aerobic activity. 30’ per day at a heart rate of 60-70% of your max heart rate results in higher concentrations. Increased activity in the hippocampus, cerebellum and prefrontal cortex were demonstrated after that same amount of exercise. Exercise improves the rate of learning and the ability to learn complex items. While exercising and non exercising subjects had the same rate of neuron degeneration, those that exercised had an increase in neuron generation.
A high school in Illinois has, for about 20 yrs. instituted mandatory PE that focuses on life long aerobic activity. By high school, they have a set amount of time they are to stay in their target heart rate. The students take their most difficult classes following their PE class. They took 1st place in an International Science Exam, and 6th in math (behind 5 other Asian countries), out of 250 countries. Their obesity rate is 3% vs. the national average of 30% for their age group. Not only that, interviews from the students indicate that exercise has taught them many self and stress management skills, as well as self confidence.
Grab a friend, go get some exercise and do your brain a favor. If you have not exercised in a while, consult your health practitioner first.