Paleoanthropologist’s put the timeline for our species somewhere between 7 to 10 million years ago, and although a lot of our evolutionary history is cloaked in controversy, one fact that is agreed upon is this: We moved-a lot. When the numerous rain forests began to shrink, we came out of the trees and were forced (on two legs) to wander around an increasingly dry landscape, looking for food and trying not to be some predators dinner. Anthropologists say we walked roughly 12 miles a day for men, about half that for women. That means that our fancy powerful brains developed moving while on the move (working out), not lounging around. If our unique cognitive skills were born with movement, do they still flourish with physical activity? You bet they do. Scientists have proven that those in good physical condition have greater cognitive abilities than those in poor condition. They have also proven that those in poor condition can improve their cognition with a return to physical activity. Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, and, my favorite, fluid-intelligence tasks. These tasks test the ability to reason quickly and think abstractly, improvising off previously learned material in order to solve a new problem. interestingly, short-term memory and certain types of reaction times were not affected by activity, but heck, the aforementioned benefits are good enough for me. What type of exercise must you do to reap these benefits and how much is needed? Cardiovascular is most important for the type, and not much is needed. If all you do is walk several times a week, your brain will benefit. Exercise, as millions of years traipsing around the backwoods tell us, is good for the brain. How exercise works is this. Aerobic exercise induces the formation of nitric oxide (NO), which in turn relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow. With increased blood flow comes more oxygen, which the brain uses like a sponge to mop up free radical electrons. Free radicals, left unchecked, can ravage cells and even cause mutations in your DNA. Exercise also stimulates one of the brains most powerful growth factors, BDNF, which stands for Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor, and it aids in the development of healthy brain tissue, kind of like fertilizer for the brain. It also encourages neurogenesis, the growth of new cells. And, the more you exercise, the more BDNF you create. It’s time to get moving. To understand how the brain really works and how to get the most out of it, I encourage you to read Brain Rules, by John Medina. There is also a website brainrules.net It’s fantastic reading.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.