These bodies of ours were made to move, just as our brains were made to think. Yeah, over the years some parts get worn down, things start to crack and creak– and the same thing happens to our brains. In our culture we sit more than we move, and our bodies– and our brains– suffer as a result.
The more we sit, sedentary, the less opportunity we have for improving our physical strength, or expanding our cardiovascular stamina. Because our brains benefit from physical exercise, they’re just as prone to losing strength due to a lack of exercise as our bodies are.
Maybe you’re like me, and have bouts of what I like to call, “Mom-nesia.” It seems to have started in those sleep-deprived early days of my career as a mom. Then the second kiddo came along. Add in more sleep deprivation coupled with the never-ending singing of the Thomas the Tank Engine theme song, and I had very little cognitive activity in my life outside of reading Dr. Seuss books. (To be fair, Dr. Seuss books do require more mental stamina than one might expect.)
There was also very little physical exercise happening, outside of picking up toys and chasing a toddler. But when I was able to exercise, I had more energy, and things just seemed to click better. It wasn’t just a coincidence. Physical exercise helps our brains as well as our bodies.
A study at the University of Pittsburgh found that a group of middle-aged monkeys that exercised for an hour a day five days a week learned new things twice as quickly as a group of middle-aged monkeys that didn’t exercise. The reason, according to several studies, is that exercise increases the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a small portion of the brain that saves new memories, manages long-term memory, and helps with spatial navigation.
The good news is that this little section of gray matter is very responsive to physical exercise. The hippocampus actually grows in response to physical activity — and it doesn’t take a lot of sweating to do some good.
A Harvard University study published in 2014 showed that as little as an hour of exercise two days a week can be enough to stimulate growth in the hippocampus.
That means that doing activities that promote growth, or at least prevent shrinkage, can also improve your brain function and memory as well as your mood. It’s not going to take the place of medical treatment for dementia or other memory-related conditions, but can be added to a treatment plan, with a doctor’s supervision. Even if you’re not suffering from a mental illness or memory loss, we all can use a better memory and a better mood, right?
The study also highlights the importance of creating a habit of exercise, not only for us, but for our kids. They’re in school for hours a day learning new math formulas and history facts. If they come home at the end of the day and do nothing but more homework and collecting gold coins in Marioland, it may be harder for them to remember what they’re learning.
Reaping the benefits of exercise doesn’t require a huge investment of time or money. It can be as simple as taking a 30 minute walk to unwind as a family after dinner, tossing a Frisbee in the back yard, having a marshmallow war in the living room on a rainy afternoon, or challenging your toddlers to dance to a song on the radio.
The important thing is to move. It’s good for your body, and your brain.
Cheering for you!
Reprinted from UpstateParent.com.