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5 Under-Appreciated Facts about Fitness and the Brain

Posted January 15th, 2011 by Carroll King Schuller

Deciding to get and stay physically active is more than just about avoiding some future health ailment.

Studies about the benefits of fitness crop up all the time.  Exercise helps to prevent or mitigate heart disease and diabetes.  It can help people suffering from arthritis or cancer.  It may even contribute to deterring the progress of diseases like Alzheimers, as this recent article in The Oregonian discusses:  Aerobic Training Protects Brain Against Aging.

And still, the data doesn’t seem to click.  Dire warnings about future health conditions just aren’t good motivation to exercise and improve your physical fitness.  No amount of finger-waggling by phys-ed teachers seems to work.

Let’s think about the present instead.

It is a natural human tendency to ask the question:

“What can I do that will make my present moment richer, more full?”

Use the momentum of that question to help you explore and practice the benefits of fitness.  Whatever is good for our bodies is also (usually) good for our brains.

  1. Flexible body, flexible mind.  Moving your body whether by walking, dancing, swimming or something else creates mobility in your mind.  Our brains are always continuing to adapt and learn, and they can follow the body’s lead in doing so.  As this study demonstrates learning new tricks creates new pathways in the brain—keeping it young and agile.
  2. Relaxation for the body is relaxation for the brain: Exercise can create a necessary release valve for stress.  In the moment that you’re most amped up about a deadline or a project, taking five minutes to stretch or even walk a flight or two of stairs in your office building will help to diffuse that stress.  It will clear your brain and give you focus.
  3. Play inspires creativity:  Skipping, dancing, joining a pick-up game of soccer.  When you do something playful, you relax.  And in a relaxed state, good ideas can flow.
  4. Physical activity will boost your mood. With activity comes a rush of endorphins–those tingly, feel-good sensations.  They’ll make you feel brighter and more optimistic.  That alone will add strength and confidence to your work.
  5. Movement increases oxygen levels to your brain.  It’s no accident that you might find yourself thinking more clearly about a problem or idea after a walk.  You’ve just given your brain a delicious infusion of oxygen.