The Effects of Exercise on the Brain

Exercise has been shown to have a plethora of health benefits. It has been proven to reduce the risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, decrease the onset and progression of osteo-arthritis, and so on.

Physical activity can also benefit the brain, which has been the subject of many studies within the past 10 years.

A new study was just released from Michigan State University that found that children who have attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD) get better grades with only a few minutes of exercise per day. The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, shows how children with ADHD can better drown out distractions and focus better after doing physical activity.

The study consisted of 40 children aged 8 to 10. Half of them had ADHD. The children were divided into 2 groups. The first group spent 20 minutes walking on a treadmill while the other group spent the 20 minutes sitting in a chair reading. All of the children were then given a math test, reading comprehension test and a test on a computer. The results showed that all of the children, those with ADHD and those without, did better on both tests after exercising, compared to the ones who did not exercise.

This proves the current trend of cutting physical education classes in schools due to budget cuts is not productive. This means it is even more important for those children with ADHD to exercise, since other studies have shown that those types of children are less likely to be physically active or to play organized sports.

The lead researcher of the study stated that “To date, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence that schools can pull from to justify why these physical education programs should be in existence. So what we’re trying to do is target our research to provide that type of evidence.”

This goes along with other studies I have read proving how children are more productive and do better on exams after doing physical activity.

The book “Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain” by John J. Ratey mentions many studies like the one just mentioned. In the book, Ratey states that exercise causes hormonal changes throughout the body.

One of the hormonal changes happens in the brain. Exercise causes the release of Human Growth Hormone in the brain. Human growth Hormone aids in establishing neurological pathways in the brain that are what memories are made of. Exercise helps to make memories and you will remember things better after exercising.

Not only will exercise aid in memory, it will also help you focus better, concentrate better, and make it easier to sit for long periods and pay attention. Exercise and stretching will also decrease the tightness and irritation that accumulates from sitting for long periods at a desk.

In his book, Ratey mentions a review done in 2004 by 13 noted researchers in fields ranging from kinesiology to pediatrics. It was a massive review of more than 850 studies about the effects of physical activity on school aged children. The studies focused on moderate to intense physical activity 3 to 5 days a week for a duration of 30 to 45 minutes each day.

The studies covered a broad range of topics and issues such as obesity, cardio-vascular fitness, blood pressure, depression, anxiety, self-concept, bone density, and academic performance. Based on the evidence from these studies, the panel issued a recommendation that school aged children participate in at least one hour of physical activity a day. Looking specifically at the effects of physical activity on academic performance, the panel reported that physical activity has a positive influence on memory, concentration, and classroom behavior.

Mr. Zientarski, a physical education teacher at Naperville High School where they have been proving the positive effects of physical activity on grades, stated “I tell people it’s not my job as a PE teacher to make kids fit. My job is to make them know all of the things they need to know to keep themselves fit. Exercise in itself is not fun. It’s work. So if you can make them understand it, show them the benefits-that’s a radical transformation.”

Many people do not exercise because it is not fun. Many adults know the benefits of exercise and physical activity, but don’t do it because it isn’t fun or interesting. If these children can make it fun and interesting, why can’t we as adults?

There are so many different types of exercise and physical activity; there are so many ways to make it interesting and fun. If you are exercising and dread it, you are not going to stick with it. Try to find something that you enjoy doing. Many people like exercise classes because the time goes by faster when someone is telling you what to do, and you are surrounded by others doing the same thing.

Some people don’t like classes and don’t want to exercise around anyone else. If someone is overweight or hasn’t exercised in years, it can be a very daunting and intimidating experience to go to a gym to exercise. Especially if they are surrounded by very fit people who know what they are doing, and aren’t nice to newcomers.

If you are overweight, haven’t exercised in years, in a lot of pain, it will be hard to get into a new exercise routine. It will be hard to find a place where you feel comfortable sweating and moving, let alone changing clothes or showering in the locker room. It is daunting to start out with weights that are 1 or 2 pounds while the person next to you is lifting 50 or 60 pounds. The whole experience can be very intimidating.

That is why I designed the Pain Free Lifestyle program to be done at home. They are simple exercises that need very little equipment. It is very possible to get a great workout with 2 to 4 dumbbells. You just need to know what you are doing. I took the thinking out of the equation. I designed it so that all you have to do is follow the directions. You will not have to set up a home gym. You’ll just need to buy a few hand weights (dumbbells) and keep them in a corner. You’ll need a small space to perform the exercises, but large enough for you to lie down comfortably and spread out.

I prefer to exercise at home. I have 2 small children and a full time job as a chiropractor. I don’t have the time to go to the gym and go to yoga classes. I can’t afford to hire a babysitter to watch my children while I exercise. I feel it is easier for me to get my workouts done at home in our den. Then I can watch my kids play while I exercise. This also provides the added bonus of having my kids see me exercise, which is a good influence on them and will increase their chances of exercising and taking care of themselves when they get older (as I write this my children are outside running around in our alley and riding bikes!). I will never forget watching my father do pull-ups on metal beams in our basement when I was little. My brother and I loved to watch him exercise. And it influenced me to exercise and take care of myself.

Now I exercise all of the time, I am what people call an exercise fanatic. I feel that I need to practice what I preach. I would never recommend a patient do something that I wouldn’t do or haven’t done. I have heard too many times from other doctors “Do as I say, not as I do.” Well it’s a lot harder to take someone seriously who doesn’t follow their own advice.

I love to exercise, well most of the time. But I have taken the time to design a routine that I enjoy and find interesting. And I know many of the benefits of exercise and how it will help me now and in the future. I don’t like doing cardio-vascular exercise indoors. So I bike outdoors. I like getting fresh air. The time flies by when I am outside. I also do non-traditional weight lifting with kettle bells. Kettle bells are round, metal balls with handles on them. They are originally from Russia. They cause you to use your balancing muscles and flexibility, and incorporate many muscle groups together. They are not for beginners. I enjoy them and find they are non-obtrusive. Brett Jones, a well known kettle bell guru says that they are the perfect weights for an apartment. Because you only need 2 or 3 of them and you can get a great, full body workout from them.

So don’t try to stick with an exercise that you don’t enjoy or find interesting. You are much more likely to stick with an exercise that doesn’t hurt and that you like. If you hate walking on a treadmill then try the elliptical machine or stationary bike. Or try a spin class. If you don’t like lifting weights then do yoga or some other weight bearing exercise.

If you can find something that you like to do, and will stick with consistently, you will feel the benefits now and in the future. Your mind will function better, you will be more productive at work, and you will feel better and have less pain now and later on. And that, is the Pain Free Way.

Here is a link to another article that I wrote about brain health and physical activity.

 

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