I’m going to give you a quick anatomy lesson: neural tissue makes up the communication system of the body. Information travels from one part of the body to another via electrical impulses passed through neural tissue, which is how your brain gets the information that your senses take in. It’s how, for example, your brain tells your arm to reach or your foot to kick. Neural tissue is the foundation of how your brain functions. According to researchers at Dana-Farber and Harvard Medical School a specific molecule released during endurance exercise improves cognition and protects the brain against degeneration. Simply put: activity can make you smarter!
The study, which was a team effort involving both the Texas Tech Department of Physiology and the Department of Health, Exercise, and Sports Sciences, determined that exercise increases the level of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a naturally produced neural biochemical that contributes to the healthy functioning of neural tissue. Having a way to promote neural health is important because, as the National Institute of Health points out, we lose neural function as we age.
It’s not too late to boost your brain.
Whether you are 28, 42, or 75, there are still steps that you can take to keep your brain sharp. Evidence suggests that physical activity is one of the best things to help both preserve and improve cognitive functioning. A sedentary lifestyle offers NO protection against the loss of brain tissue and neural function that seem to be a part of aging. So if you find that you are spending far more time sitting than you are active, now is the time to change that pattern of behavior.
As much as you hate to admit it, and despite all of the recent negative press surrounding inactivity, there are probably still a lot of you out there that haven’t been paying as much attention to your physical activity levels as you should. Whether it’s because of a hectic work schedule, constantly watching the kids, or just the mere fact that is seems like an insurmountable task to hop on the fitness bandwagon after a significant period of neglect—it’s time to push every reason or excuse aside. Why? Because just by committing to a couple minutes of movement every hour, you will start moving down the path that leads to better cognitive function (and better overall health).
Your body was designed to move.
The results of decreased activity have led to a sharp increase in health issues in recent decades, with obesity being one of the most obvious. I won’t go into all of the other chronic conditions that happen as a result of inactivity for the sake of not sounding like a broken record, but a closer look at what exactly is happening to your body can be found in my previous post, “Prolonged Sitting: The New Dangerous Job Requirement.” However, there are many other, more subtle effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Among those is the dulling of the mind, that feeling of being fatigued and struggling to concentrate, which you’ve probably noticed before after a few hours go by spent in front of the computer (and if you’re sitting reading this, get up and move your arms and legs around while you read the rest!)
If you’ve already made movement and physical activity a key component of your day—kudos. I know that it can take a lot in today’s busy world to consciously take the time to get moving. But think about it this way: you are literally saving yourself from developing a multitude of injuries and illnesses, including loss of brain functionality.
And if you have room for improvement? It’s never too late. Remember that this change toward a more active lifestyle doesn’t have to happen overnight. One of the things I always tell my patients is to simply start small. If you can begin by moving around or performing a few stretches and exercises right from your chair or desk once an hour, that’s an excellent start.
Gradually tack on more movement by incorporating a morning walk around the office, and advance to joining a local gym with a co-worker so you have no excuse after work. Work your way up to longer bouts of movement and exercise all day long, and you’ll be on your way to improving both your physical and mental well-being without even realizing it. And if you can take it one step further by adding a few supporting changes in your daily diet and your home routine, gradually in bite sized pieces, you’ll soon start to experience real and lasting progress.