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Exercise is the secret ingredient. You only ever uplift from your position of connection and strength.
DID YOU KNOW WE ARE LITERALLY KILLING OURSELVES? In our always-on, screen driven lives, we have forgotten that we are essentially natural born movers. What’s even more scary, and what doesn’t get much airtime by the way, is that whilst we sit comfy on our couches bingeing Netflix, these behaviours are killing our brains too — literally shrivelling them up.
The mind-body connection has fascinated me for years and is a belief that I place at the very centre of my own wellbeing, so allow me to connect the two for you. It could seriously revamp your life.
We all know exercise is good for us and makes us feel good. Really good. Though most of us have no idea why. We assume it’s because we get an endorphin high or we’re burning off stress. But the real reason we feel so good when we move our bodies, is because the chemical cirque de soleil going on inside us, spectacularly optimises our brain function which, in my opinion is the most schamazing— and spellbinding benefit of exercise. Way more impressive than what it does for your body.
For our brains to be at peak performance, our bodies need to work hard. That’s a scientific fact.
Inspiring Science Connecting Exercise and the Brain
Neuroscientists have been studying exercise’s impact within brain cells for a while now, and they’ve found significant signs that your body influences your mind.
Did you know that high levels of stress chip away at those connections between the billions of nerve cells in your brain or that depression can even shrink certain parts of the brain. What you probably didn’t know, is that exercise reverses this process by unleashing a waterfall of neurochemicals that quite literally, physically strengthen the brain’s infrastructure.
Exercise increases levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine — chief neurotransmitters that work together and with other proteins in the brain, to traffic your thoughts and emotions.
A neurotransmitter is basically a type of chemical that helps to send messages from one area of the brain to another
SEROTONIN is widely known as being one of the brain’s ‘happy chemicals’, because it appears to be able to influence your mood. It’s complex and multifaceted impacting your cognition, reward, learning, memory and numerous physiological processes.
NOREPINEPHRINE often amplifies signals that influence your arousal, motivation and perception. It enhances your memory formation and retrieval, plus it dramatically focuses your attention.
DOPAMINE is known as the feel-good neurotransmitter. The brain releases it when you eat food or drink that you crave, or while you have sex, contributing to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as part of the reward system. This important neurochemical boosts your mood, motivation, attention and helps regulate your movement, learning, and emotional responses.
As fundamental as these neurotransmitters are another cluster of master molecules have dramatically changed neuroscientists’ understanding of connections in the brain.
Specifically, how they develop and grow.
BDNF aka The Big Gun (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) is a crucial biological link between thought, emotions, and movement.
Researchers found that if they sprinkled BDNF onto neurons in a petri dish, the cells automatically sprouted new branches, producing the same structural growth required for learning. You could say that BDNF is like miracle-gro for the brain (Source: Spark! by Eric Hagerman)
BDNF is also a key ingredient for making new cells and is unleashed when we get our blood pumping. Basically when we move our bodies!
IGF-1 and VEGF (Insulin like Growth Factor and Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor). Moving our muscles produces proteins — IGF-1 and VEGF — that travel through the bloodstream and into the brain, where they play a key role in your highest thought processes.
With metabolic diseases such as Diabetes type 2, Alzheimers and Obesity skyrocketing, exercise is a lifestyle strategy that is without a doubt, a game changer because it positively impacts the way you think, act and feel.
Knowing this can literally improve millions of peoples’ lives, including yours.
Why Should You Care How Your Brain Works?
For one thing, it’s running the show. Be in no doubt about that.
Your life can seriously upgrade when you understand that there’s a biological basis for various emotional issues such as anxiety, stress and depression and that you can actually do something about it, pretty quickly and easily.
Seriously if exercise came in pill form, it would be THE bestseller drug and be front page news forever
Your brain is more dough than glass. It can be adapted just like your muscles can be sculpted by lifting weights. And the more you use it, the more robust and flexible it becomes.
As we get older, production of growth factors and BDNF start to slow down, bringing down neurogenesis (the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain). Even before then, a drop in these can show up in your life as increased stress or depression. But if you exercise daily then it means you have some control over the situation and best of all you can do something about it.
I recommend you get moving regularly and with some intensity, even if it feels hard at first.
It’s about living your life growing versus declining. Use it or lose it. Your body was designed to be pushed, and when you push your body your brain flourishes too. Existing research shows that if you need to focus on a project that demands clever thinking and complex analysis, then doing it immediately after some intense exercise, as blood-flow shifts back to the prefrontal cortex, can really up your game.
In case you were wondering, the prefrontal cortex is in the front part of the brain. This region helps you plan, have complex cognitive behaviours, expresses your personality and is vital for decision making. It also helps correct social behaviour. The basic activity of this brain region is to bring together thoughts and actions to help you achieve internal goals.
You may have noticed by now that I am a teeny weeny bit obsessed by brain science!
How Do I Get My Brain To Peak Performance?
I try to work in places where I can easily do Micro-Workouts when I need a pick me up, I have to focus, get creative, or do something that is gonna tax my brain. Heck for me that can also include public speaking, being in front of a camera or meeting someone who can be tricky shall we say.
It’s also why I always try and do my best to fit in some form of exercise in the morning before I start working, even if that’s a ten minute dance off with my son to get my heart pumping.
My mind definitely operates better and I get more sh*t done. I’m way more focussed, less distracted and my mind just feels sharper. Ultimately this means I get more done and the quality of my work feels a cut above, which helps me produce better results and makes me feel accomplished.
The end result is I am less stressed or anxious, and instead I feel happy. I feel good about myself and isn’t that what you want? Feeling good impacts everything in your life, not just work, but relationships, what you eat, drink, how you feel and act. Operating at peak performance helps you live your best life.
Exercise makes me feel like it reboots my brain
Find 3 ‘Micro-Workouts’ You Can Do Daily for 30 Days
I suggest you pick one to three micro-workouts you can start TODAY and commit to doing each micro-workout 10 minutes daily, for 30 days. Ideally you do all three so you’ve done 25–30 minutes of exercise daily. Anything from dancing, to sprinting on the spot, to doing simple planks and jumping jacks.
Or just do Squats, you can never go wrong with squats!
I also recommend you up the level of intensity every week and challenge yourself regularly. Like add weights, going harder or doing 15 minutes instead of ten. See where that gets you. Notice the improvement in your mood, self esteem (which always elevates when we keep our commitments to ourselves) and how much better your brain functions overall.
When you move your body and get in shape, your mind will always follow.
This Is What I Find Works Well For Me
I practice yoga, do high intensity training, lift weights and walk briskly because they are easy peasy to incorporate into my busy schedule. Even as a solo mum to a three year old boy I have no excuse not to squeeze these in. Sometimes he even joins me! I call these ‘Micro-Workouts’
My Micro-Workouts typically last 8-10 minutes and can be done anywhere, don’t cost the earth and get you results, fast. A side benefit is it forces me not to sit for long periods of time and helps me get away from my screens. A mini digital-detox. Can’t beat that!
One of the best things about doing Micro-Workouts is you get to do a few of the things you personally enjoy, so boredom doesn’t set in and you can try new stuff or mix things up as you go along.
At the end of the day even if you did just one 10 minute micro-workout, that’s 70 out of the 10,080 minutes total you get in a week! Your brain will thank you for it and you’ll get more done in less time whilst feeling good about it.
The most important thing is to do something. And to start.
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