Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Exercise -- both body & mind

Your brain is not a passive recipient of learning.
To keep its vitality, you have to exercise – both the body & the mind.
It used to be thought that aging brain cells dried up and disappeared. But according to Neurobics by doing brain exercises, and challenging yourself with the level of difficulty, you will actually grow and form new connections. (see article) Our brains are composed of different areas and functions, and we can strengthen them through mental exercise – or they get atrophied for lack of practice.

By approaching every day as a learning opportunity, and trying something new, your challenges become your achievements:
  • ALTER: Change your routines every way you can.
  • READ: Studies show that the amount of reading you’ve done over the years is the biggest predictor of cognitive decline.
  • LEARN: Try a series of subtracting or multiplying numbers, learn or foreign language or try to memorize each friend’s phone number
  • PLAY: Pick up a musical instrument and teach yourself to play & read music
  • VISUALIZE: You can reduce high levels of anxiety or stress by visualizing your own achievements

The tree key principles for a good brain are: novelty, variety &constant challenge – pretty much the same ideology of cross-training your body. Physical exercise improves blood circulation, digestion, and provides more oxygen to the brain. Exercise causes the release of growth factors, proteins that increase the number of connections between neurons. This leads to better learning & memory. In humans, exercise improves what scientists call “executive function” – the set of abilities that allows you to select behavior that’s appropriate to the situation. (see article) While people in their 70s typically begin to experience decline in their executive function, those elderly who have been athletic all their lives may experience less loss. Scientists also believe that exercise is strongly associated with a reduced risk of dementia late in life.


  • SKATE: Skating Provides a complete aerobic workout and involves all of the body’s muscles, especially the heart, as recognized by the AMA. It’s easy on the joints since it causes less than 50% of the impact shock to joints as compared to running. (see article)
  • SWIM: Endurance is developed by regularly engaging in any aerobic activity. Swimming is recommended since it is low-impact and engages virtually every muscle in the body.
  • CLIMB: Exercises that help strengthen muscles are just as good as lifting weights.
  • STRETCH: Allowing your joints to stretch will help improve your flexibility. Try combining your stretch with some visualization!

Physical exercise is important because it influences the rate of creation of new neurons in your brain. Mental exercise is important because it helps determine how those new neurons are used – and how long they survive.

So get out there -- challenge your body & your mind -- and get smart!

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