Change your brain
There is something you can do right now, that would have immediate positive effects on your attention and mood. And continuing to do it will protect you longitudinally from depression and even dementia. Dr. Wendy Suzuki is a neuroscientist at New York University and discusses this in depth. Our brains are the most complex structure known to all of humanity. Two areas are of particular interest: the prefrontal cortex which is involved in decision making, attention, and your personality. The other is the temporal lobe. Deep in that lobe is the hippocampus, which is involved in the ability to form and retain long-term memories. What is fascinating is that tiny structure, can make tiny moments, last a lifetime and change our brains for life. Memories that sit forever include things like our first kiss, the birth of our first born and more.
Then, inadvertently, Dr. Suzuki stumbled upon her fascination to learn more about exercise. For the longest time, she was studying memory but realized after doing all this research, she had no social life and led a sedentary lifestyle. She gained 25 pounds. She felt miserable. She then went on a trip, river-rafting and realized how deconditioned she’d become. She went in there full throttle and focused on going to all the classes at the gym. She did kickbox, yoga, step class, dance, you name it. She noticed a great mood boost and burst of energy after each session. She even found herself sitting down one day thinking “grant-writing is going well today.” Most scientists would never think they’d think that as the norm in this culture is that grant writing feels like it never goes well. It is tedious, makes you want to pull your hair out, trying to come up with those million dollar winning ideas. But it went well for her because her executive function got such a boost from all that exercise and she could sustain it for longer and longer stretches. The longterm memory seemed to be better too. Perhaps all this exercise was changing her brain. So she went and did a literature search and found the abundant literature on what exercise is linked to: better energy, better mood, better attention, better memory. Exercise is truly powerful. And now, she shares with us, her findings.
1.Immediate and longterm effects on the brain. You get an immediate release of dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline. A SINGLE workout can enhance our ability to shift and focus attention. It is said to last at least two hours. A SINGLE workout will enhance reaction times. You will be faster and more efficient at what you do. Although these effects are transient, they are reproducible and there is even more you can do with it. Step up your exercise regime, increase your cardiorespiratory function, get the long-lasting effects. Exercise WILL CHANGE your brain’s anatomy, physiology, and function. Exercise actually produces brand new brain cells in the hippocampus, increasing the volume of this memory hot spot. This will improve longterm memory.
2.Better attention. That is another benefit that continues to be reaped as a reward from longterm benefits of longitudinal exercise regimes.
These effects on mood have long sustained effects with a continued regime of exercise. There can be longlasting increase in those good mood neurotransmitters.
Finally, there are long term protective effects on the brain. Think of the brain like a muscle. The more you work it out, the bigger and stronger that prefrontal cortex and hippocampus get. Why is that important? Those two areas are the most susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases. You may not avoid diseases like Alzheimer’s disease all together. But by bulking these areas, it takes longer for these diseases to have effect. Think of exercise as a supercharged 401k for your brain. It’s even better. It’s free.
But who has the time? Is there a minimum amount needed to get those benefits? Well the good news is that you do not have to be a triathlete to get these effects. You want to get 3-4 episodes of exercise in a week though, minimum of a 30 minute session each. And it needs to be aerobic. There’s ways to add more activity in your day to day life: take the stairs, park further away, don’t use your remotes, power vacuum, etc. But make sure you are getting your heart rate up. Extensive research is being done on what is the best prescription for exercise, for each individual person, your age, your size, sex, and more.
Remember, exercise is free and can change the trajectory of your life.