Exercise your body, focus your brain
Our bodies were made for moving. Sure, they slow down a bit as we get older, but that’s mostly because we find so many time-consuming things to do that require sitting.
The more we sit, sedentary, the less opportunity we have for improving our physical strength, or expanding our cardiovascular stamina.
It’s the same with our brain. Maybe you’re like me, and have bouts of what I like to call, “Mom-nesia.” It seems to have started in those sleep-deprived early days of my journey as a mom. Then the second kiddo came along. Add in more sleep deprivation coupled with the never-ending singing of the Thomas the Tank Engine theme song, and I had very little cognitive activity in my life outside of reading Dr. Seuss books.
But when I was able to exercise, I had more energy, and things just seemed to click better. It wasn’t just a coincidence. Physical exercise helps our brains as well as our bodies.
A study at the University of Pittsburgh found that a group of middle-aged monkeys that exercised for an hour a day five days a week learned new things twice as quickly as a group of middle-aged monkeys that didn’t exercise. The reason, according to several studies, is that exercise increases the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a small portion of the brain that saves new memories, manages long-term memory, and assists with spatial navigation.
The good news is that this little section of gray matter is very responsive to physical exercise. The hippocampus actually grows in response to physical activity — and it doesn’t take a lot of sweating to do some good.
A Harvard University study published in 2014 showed that as little as an hour of exercise two days a week can be enough to stimulate growth in the hippocampus.
That means that doing activities that promote growth, or at least prevent shrinkage, can also improve your brain function and memory as well as your mood. It’s certainly not an alternative for treatment of medical conditions, but can work in concert with any treatment you may be receiving. Even if you’re not suffering from a mental illness, we all can use a better memory and a better mood, right?
The study also highlights the importance of creating a habit of exercise, not only for us, but for our kids. They’re in school for hours a day learning new math formulas and history facts. If they come home at the end of the day and do nothing but more homework and collecting gold coins in Marioland, it may be harder for them to remember what they’re learning.
Reaping the benefits of exercise doesn’t require a huge investment of time or money. It can be as simple as taking a 10- or 15 minute walk to unwind as a family after dinner, tossing a Frisbee in the back yard, having a marshmallow war in the living room on a rainy afternoon, or challenging your toddlers to dance to a song on the radio.
The important thing is to move. It’s good for your body, and your brain.
Talk to Jenna
Jenna Kochenauer is a news anchor on WORD 106.3 FM radio. Follow her @JennaOnTheAir. Read her blog at www.NotSoFitGirl.com.