Exercise – Beyond Physical Appearance
Exercise has been promoted and marketed successfully throughout the world. In a report published in 2013, the health and fitness industry generates 75 billion per year on a global level. Anything from walking, dancing, zumba, home based workouts, polaris, aerobics and yoga all promote a healthy lifestyle. To say the benefits of exercise are strictly physical however would be an understatement. The benefits of exercise go beyond physical appearance – they impact and benefit brain function as well.
There is consistent research that shows the more fit you are, the more neural connectivity you have; research also shows fitness levels are directly associated with stress management abilities and how well we endure and persevere during difficult times. This doesn’t mean you have to look like a professional athlete or super model to realize the mental benefits of exercise. Physical activity is a powerful tool you can use to optimize your body and brain function. When exercise is coupled with healthy nutrition, a good night’s rest and appropriate stress management you’re providing your body the optimal microenvironment it needs to maintain balance and homeostasis, keep cell biology in equilibrium and regulate the body’s inflammatory response in a healthy way. The combination of these healthy lifestyle choices brings benefits to the brain that promotes very specific and important brain function such as attention, memory, learning, motivation and desire. It even provides us with the emotional tools needed to handle stress and challenges that occur in our lives – providing us the opportunity to learn from these experiences, regardless of how daunting the challenge or trial may appear.
To help provide some context, here’s a peek of how exercise impacts brain function. As we engage in physical activity the brain increases the production of neurotransmitters – specifically Gaba and Serotonin. These neurotransmitters act as inhibitive chemicals, meaning instead of exciting the body into changing our emotions or state of mind, they provide feelings of calmness, bringing us into a balanced and normal state of being. Gaba and Serotonin regulate brain stem function, which results in better performance and communication between the neocortex section of our brain and the limbic and amygdala regions of the brain. This is important because the neocortex communicates facts, reason, truth and logic while the limbic and amygdala regions create levels of excitement and strong emotions. Feelings such as fear, anger and resentment originate through the limbic and amygdala regions. As the neocortex communicates objective truths and facts to these sections of the brain, the limbic and amygdala regions relax, breaking cycles of anxiety and stress.
The production and balance of neurotransmitters is just one way that exercise supports a healthy mind. There are many other benefits, including:
BDNF production – exercise increases the production of this natural chemical in the cerebellum. BDNF plays a critical role in the creation of new brain cells
LTP firing – LTP stands for long-term potentiation. As LTP fires off new neuron cells are able to make connections to the existing network in our brain, helping create new neuron circuitry and quickening cellular signaling and communication in the brain.
Production of important proteins – exercise produces proteins such as IGF1, FGF2 and VEGF. These proteins help in our body’s ability to recover, heal, reduce anxiety and promote the development of new blood vessels and capillaries to the brain (angiogenesis).
Regulate pain – exercise produces a neurotransmitter known as anandamide which helps the body and brain manage pain, mood and pleasure.
Reduces anxiety – physical activity increases the production of a hormone known as ANP which helps regulate feelings of anxiety.
Now, more than perhaps ever before, it’s important to know and use tools and means that our body has been designed with to manage stress. We live in a society where we seem to never have enough time. We fill our days and schedules with the demands of everyday life and more often than not end up overbooking our days. Even when we make time for ourselves, we’re get bombarded by emails, social media posts and other messages on our mobile devices.
These societal changes create more stress in our days, and our brains always end up getting affected. Unless we’re aware of our surroundings all of this leads to ongoing stress that eventually becomes chronic in nature. Over time, hormones and neurotransmitters are produced in inadequate amounts, leading to biochemical imbalance. As these biochemical imbalances occur, the brain is unable to perform in a healthy way.
How is healthy brain function inhibited under these conditions? In order to understand the answer we must first keep in mind the important role the prefrontal cortex of the brain plays. The prefrontal cortex is a key component in circuitry creation. As it creates circuitry, the prefrontal cortex uses social cognition, including our ability to explore and establish healthy relationships with everybody from loved ones to co workers, and even casual acquaintances. It considers the depth of those relationships, such as our level of trust with those we work with or the level of romantic desires we have for our spouse long after the honeymoon is over.
All of these interactions and relationships is translated by the brain into a connection between the frontal cortex (which promotes sound judgment and impulse control) and the limbic region of the brain (which promotes emotions and feelings of pleasure and reward). The limbic section is fueled by hormones. Because of the imbalance of hormones that takes place when we have chronic stress, the interconnectivity and communication between the frontal cortex and the limbic section changes. These changes can provoke immature behavior that may lead to a substantial amount of emotional and physiological damage, immune system disorders and a number of other diseases. Energy and stamina also tends to diminish along with sexual drive in married couples.
If these are symptoms that you’re beginning to experience, here’s a few tips and things to consider to help reverse any damage or miscommunication taking place in the brain and the rest of the body:
Eat nutritious foods and avoid skipping meals
Participate in wholesome recreational activities
Sleep 7 – 8 hours every night
Drink 8 – 10 glasses of water per day.
Set aside 30 minutes for physical activity
As it relates to physical activity and exercise, the key is to increase your heart rate slowly. If physical activity is new for you or if it’s been a while since you’ve exercised, here’s a great way to start. Begin walking 15 minutes 5 times a week. During week 2 increase the amount of time to 20 minutes; week 3 increase the time to 30 minutes. After the 3rd week you can begin increasing the intensity so that you follow the following exercise plan:
Week 4 – walk for 5 minutes, jog for 2 minutes, walk for 5 minutes, jog for 2 minutes, walk for 5 minutes, jog for 2 minutes, walk for 5 minutes, jog for the final 6 minutes.
Week 5 – walk for 4 minutes, jog for 3 minutes, walk for 4 minutes, jog for 3 minutes, walk for 4 minutes, jog for 3 minutes, walk for 4 minutes, jog for the final 5 minutes
Week 6 – walk for 4 minutes, jog for 6 minutes, walk for 4 minutes, jog for 6 minutes, walk for 4 minutes, jog for final 6 minutes
Week 7 – walk for 4 minutes, jog for 10 minutes, walk for 4 minutes, jog for 12 minutes
Week 8 – walk for 4 minutes, jog for 20 minutes, walk for final 6 minutes
Week 9 – walk for 5 minutes, jog for 25 minutes, slow paced 3 minute walk to cool down
During this time we recommend using Phytotherapi Stress, Renewal Therapi and Essential Therapi to help support the body’s ability to bring down anxiety levels, while at the same time providing important nutrients and supporting cellular communication in the body.
The combination of exercise, managing stress and getting key nutrients will help improve the brain’s learning, memory and memory retrieval capacities. As a result we’ve seen people improve in their ability to connect with others, increase their stamina, be better prepared to handle stressful events before they become a personal emotional crisis, improve sleep and balance out important biochemicals such as hormones and neurotransmitters.
Nutrition also shouldn’t be ignored. By changing what and how we eat we enable our bodies to reverse damage and replace sickness with health. Eating junk food today effects the cells, tissues and organs that make up our body tomorrow.
All of these benefits lead to a healthier body due to higher energy levels and a reduction in inflammation. In addition to the physical things we can do to improve our health, the mental component is also critical. Removing all negative or illogical/purely emotional thinking based on fears, biases or strong emotions puts us minds in a healthy state of mind. Negative thinking only brings pain without any benefits. All of these things consume too much energy and is debilitating to our health. Allowing ourselves to be ruled by emotions brings the onset of chronic stress and paralyzes our ability to change our lifestyle as we procrastinate doing the important things that bring meaning to our lives. Not only does this destroy our physical and emotional health, it also affects the quality of our family life and our ability to be creative, innovative and productive at work. Exercise and nutrition, combined with using Phytotherapi’s stress program and protocols is an excellent way to get the mind back to a state of well being and health.