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  • Writer's pictureVicci Gillett

Are you BRAIN fit?

Exercising the body goes beyond toning muscles and tendons. The influence on your brain and even particular 'regions' has long been reported as scientific studies have shown that you can drive neurogenesis (growth and development of nervous tissue in the brain) through exercise. Which activity you choose will determine which areas of your brain your are developing - and you'll have to do more than a sudoku or a crossword!


Resistance Training

We'll start with your Pre Frontal Cortex. It's the most recently evolved part of the human brain and is in charge of your executive function, complex thought processes, reasoning, planning, problem solving and multi tasking. Lifting weights and bodyweight exercises will help to increase the production of Insulin-like Growth Factor -1 (IGF1), a hormone that helps promote the growth of new neurons and blood vessels. You'll also decrease your levels of homocysteine which is an inflammatory molecule found in the brains of people with Dementia.



Sports Drills

Next we have the Parietal Lobe, it helps us to navigate our environment and receives all our sensory information other than pain or temperature. It helps with visual-spacial processing. Proprioceptive exercises like sports drills are great. Running whilst trying to catch a ball is a good example.


The Cerebellum (Latin for 'little brain') controls balance, co-ordination and movement. Focused attention to improve rhythm, balance, hand eye co-ordination and precision of movement will adapt and improve this area. Romanian Deadlifts are a favourite of mine.



Yoga/Pilates/Meditation

The Frontal Cortex is the brain's CEO, controlling attention, decisions and memories. It holds all the 'maps' of all the muscles by having receptors embedded into the joints and tissues of body parts. You'll need to do exercise such as Yoga and Pilates where you are thinking mindfully about your movements and exploring new connections with muscles in unfamiliar positions and under different length tensions. This is the 'use it or lose it' part of your brain.


Your Insula receives information on your internal state of all your tissues, known as interoception and recognises our emotional state affecting our tissues. Meditation is the key combined with thoughtful movement practices.



Have you ever had an injury and some time later felt fearful of moving that part of your body properly again, maybe you don't even realise you aren't? That's down to your Amygdala. It's involved in fear processing and will inhibit or contract muscles to stop you moving in a certain way associated with the memory of a past trauma. It's also linked to anxiety and social phobias. So once again, Yoga/Pilates combined with meditation is a winner here.


HIIT

You may have heard of your Hypothalamus, it releases hormones and controls appetite and many other things, particularly affecting craving control. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) reduces Ghrelin produced in the gastro intestinal tract. It regulates appetite and has a major role in the distribution of energy. It's the hunger hormone, following intense exercise this hormone is at its lowest, meaning you will feel less hungry! Studies also found that the brain required less energy to complete certain tasks after exercise meaning 'the older brain works like a younger one'. If that's not motivation for exercise then I don't know what is!!!!!!



Aerobic Exercise

And finally, your Hippocampus, it's important in consolidating information from your short term memories to your long term memories. Aerobic exercise boosts Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which promotes the growth of new neurons that can help stave off Alzheimer's and Dementia. Go for that run or bike ride you've been thinking about.



You have to exercise your BRAIN in all areas to be truly brain fit. As we all live longer, keeping active is important not just from the physical sense but also in staving off brain disease for those later years of life. Cross training in this way is also going to do wonders to your body, making you more resilient and reducing the chance of injury. You don't need to add hours to your fitness plan, just start by identifying one weakness and work to improve it, until it becomes your strength!


Vicci xx

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