On the advice of a neuroscientist, I picked up the book “Brain Rules” by John Medina. I was fascinated with his chapter on Exercise. Of course we know exercise is beneficial. It’s hard to escape the lift the body feels from even a minimum amount of movement, even we aren’t fans of exercise in general. But, as Medina points out, the value exercise has on our mind should make us all sit up and take notice. Exercise, it turns out, seems to be the elusive Fountain of Youth we had all hoped to discover.
This is particularly relevant today. Our reliance on computers means we don’t move much throughout the day. Even our kids are affected. They’re more sedentary than any preceding generations. If we don’t make a deliberately effort to get up and move, it could have larger health effects. (It already is.)
Exercise does more than make us feel better. It helps protect us against the risk of diseases such as heart attack and stoke. Medina points out it goes even further: exercise has such a powerful effect on the mind that it can help us understand, remember, and learn more effectively. Thousands of people enrolled in the exercise studies Medina references. Here was their incredible take away: “The risk for general dementia is literally cut in half if you participate in leisure-time physical activity. … With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater: [aerobic] exercise lowers your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent.” (p. 16) And, here’s the thing. These studied has participants exercising only 20 minutes only two times a week!
Beyond our cognitive abilities, exercise can improve our mental health. Of course, we knew this intuitively–at least our parents did. Remember as a kid your mom would tell you to go “play outside”? Turns out that wasn’t just good for her well being. Exercise impacts the release of three neurotransmitters that affect our mental health: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Those neurotransmitters make us feel good, help us become more alert, enhance our mood and even act as a pain reliever. That’s a great ROI on 20 minutes of work! Rigorous exercise is good for all of us–and extraordinarily beneficial for people who suffer from anxiety and depression–some study participants successfully replaced their anti-depressant meds with exercise!
So what and who cares?
I admit after reading about the benefits of exercise, I went for a walk. No kidding. I enjoy exercising. I regularly go to CrossFit and recently went rock climbing with my wife and son, so it’s not as thought I’m inactive. But sometimes I don’t take the time to think about just how beneficial exercise it. This book was a good reminder. I don’t know if you’re going to read the book, so I want to leave you with some very small steps to get you moving. (Don’t try to make huge changes. One small step at a time will get you there.)
- Go outside and PLAY with the kids. Chase them so they can run.
- Go for a walk. 2x a week for twenty minutes each time.
- Park further from the door when you go to work or shop. Use your break at work to get outside.
- Join CrossFit. (Just kidding. I wanted to see if you’re paying attention.)
- If you can’t get out, exercise in place with a few jumping jacks and knee raises.
Let me know you tried any of these and what benefits you noticed.
One other thing struck me as I was reading. I wondered how many people weren’t getting as much benefit from exercise as they could. What happens when the brain sends a signal to release those wonderful mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, but the signal is blocked or it’s signal strength is reduced because a joint in the spine is pressing against the nerve that carries the signal?
I’ll tell you what happens: you’re body stops working the beautiful way it’s designed to–and you don’t get the health benefits that keep you strong, alert, and balanced. Reading “Brain Rules” was another reminder of the importance of good spinal health. Pick up the book and read it. Better yet–get it in audio-book format and listen to it while you walk over to the office for an adjustment. Let’s make sure you’re moving correctly.