Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Mind Body Connection

Physicians have pondered the connection between our mental and physical health for centuries. explains, "Did you know you can beat stress, lift your mood, fight memory loss, sharpen your intellect and function better by increasing your heart rate and breaking a sweat?  According to John J. Ratey, MD, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, the evidence is incontrovertible - aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance."
Your brain is no different than the rest of the muscles in your body - you either use it or you lose it. The benefits of physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, have positive effects on brain function on multiple fronts, ranging from the molecular to behavioral level.

We all know that working out will strengthen and tone your body, but adding more cardio to your daily routine also increases your cognitive abilities, boosts your productivity and improves energy levels. Just one cardio workout pumps extra blood to your brain which delivers oxygen and nutrients the brain needs to perform at peak efficiency. Cardio exercise also provides the brain with endorphins and brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) that enhance functions such as memory, problem-solving skills and decision- making abilities.  Additionally, medical research has found that this type of exercise may create permanent structural changes to the brain itself and help to create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis); thus improving overall brain performance.  In fact, a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia states even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.

According to PositScience, here are a few things to remember about “The Mind Body Connection”:

  • In general, anything that is good for your heart is great for your brain.
  • Aerobic exercise is great for body and brain.  Not only does it improve brain function, but it also acts as a "first aid kit" on damaged brain cells.
  • Exercising in the morning (before going to work) not only spikes brain activity and prepares you for the mental stresses for the rest of the day, but also produces increases retention of new information and better reaction to complex situations.
  • If you prefer going to the gym alone, opt for circuit workouts which both quickly spike your heart rate and constantly redirects your attention.
  • Hitting a wall or mentally exhausted? Doing a few jumping jacks might “reboot” your brain.
  • When looking to change up your workout, look for an activity that incorporates coordination along with cardiovascular exercise, such as a dance class.

Ratey suggests, “Try alternating between your usual routine and some workouts that are mentally challenging, such as dancing or tennis, a few times a week. Activities like these require coordination, which engages several areas of the brain at once.  It's the mental equivalent of doing a push-up to work your entire upper body versus a bicep curl that targets only one muscle.”
In a few weeks, your sweat will literally pay off with you obtaining greater cognitive clarity, better memory, improved focus and less stress – not to mention a leaner body!

To learn how Fitness for Health’s one-on-one, exercise programs help strengthen your body and your mind, visit

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