Exercise and Mental Health
Exercise and mental health go hand in hand. You cannot separate them, and exercising one exercises the other.
You have probably always known that or believed it, but here is some very specific information from an excellent book, titled Brainfit for Life written by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D. who are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan.
They say, "What you cannot do is start to separate your mind’s
activity from your body. They play off and support each other.
So really, your physical health is going to have an effect on
your mental health and vice versa. This concept is most
succinctly summed up with the line that We’re sure many of
you have heard, which is “the mind-body interaction.”
Interest in the mind-body interaction is starting to gain
momentum in the research community, and scientific evidence that
supports the idea is starting to accumulate. We talk about this
extensively in chapter 12 in the discussion about mental
activity and physical intelligence.
Physical activity or exercise (we’ll talk about the
distinction in a minute) influences how your brain functions.
And these influences likely affect the function of both the
mind-to-body and body-to-mind directions of the link. When
you’re thinking of exercise think about how road repairs are
done. If you take a specific road to work that has a lot of
potholes, you don’t want them to just fix one side. If they do,
your drive to work might be better, but your drive home will
still be miserable. Luckily, exercise and physical activity seem
to work on both sides of the road to benefit the two-way communication between your brain and body.
What Do We Need To Do?
We need to take a balanced approach to increasing our
levels of physical activity. That is the short and bitter-sweet of it! You probably noticed in chapters 2 – 5 on nutritional
approaches to brain fitness, there was a lot of ground to cover,
a lot of options for tweaking your diet. But in terms of physical
activity, it’s very straight forward. The vast majority of us
need more of it. What we’d like to do in this section is impress
upon you the importance of increasing and maintaining physical
activity levels for your brain’s health, some strategies for
incorporating physical activity into your daily routine, and
some concepts for optimizing your efforts through appropriate
As we mentioned above, there is a difference between
physical activity and exercise. Many times you’ll hear the
terms ‘physical activity’ and ‘exercise’ used interchangeably,
yet there is a subtle but important distinction between the two."
Physical Activity and Physical Exercise
At 61, I want my physical and mental health to be optimal. I know I cannot unwind the clock, and I know based on my own experience that it is possible to get a good workout in at home in 10 minutes, which impacts my brain health, my mental health, and my physical health.
One model you might consider is More Love, Less Fat which is a model for couples to do at home, to help couples grow together at any age and any level of fitness.
Angie and Scott Tousignant have put this model together. When you see them on the front page of the site the link takes you to, remember they did not start there.
One of the great things about their model is its simplicity. No club membership or special clothes or equipment. You can do your exercise at your pace, your level of intensity, even choose the exercises you want to do.
Exercise and Mental Health
Not sure what most folks think of when they think of mental health, but it probably refers to the idea that they 'are not crazy', that most of their thoughts and feelings are similar to what other people around them are doing.
I think it is safe to say that mental health exists in the brain, where I perceive, interpret, and act on my interpretations, so it makes sense to keep the brain healthy, and one of the ways we do that is to take it for a walk, or a run, or to the gym, or out to mow the lawn even.
That exercise brings oxygen and blood to the brain, and more little blood vessels are created which bring more nutrients and oxygen to more neurons, and the better those neurons are nurtured, the more effective I am in my interpretations of sensory data, the better my mental health will be.
In fact, exercise is the most important factor in increasing two recently discovered capacities of the human brain, neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.
Neurogenesis is the term describing your brain's ability to grow new neurons daily, and neuroplasticity describes your brains amazing capacity to link neurons in new networks.
And folks if you do not exercise and challenge those new neurons daily, you lose them, and that is eventually called alzheimers.
Not sure about you, but I am too broke to die, and Alzheimers is not an option.
The Pillars of Brain Fitness
In Brainfit for Life Evans and Burghardt talk about the pillars of brain fitness. The most important is physical exercise, nutrition, stress management, sleep, and novel learning experiences.
On this page, we have talked a bit about how physical exercise is so important to the human experience, and to human mental health.
One of the very interesting recent developments in the mental health field is the use of computerized Cognitive Behavioral Programs in the addiction treatment field.
That sounds pretty amazing to me, an old Twelve Step guy, but then again, ever since I read Norman Doidge's, MD, The Brain That Changes Itself, I have been using computerized brain fitness programs like Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, The Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, and Lumosity in conjunction with my physical workout for my mental and brain health.
I am posting links here so that you can take a look.
I have chosen to use computerized brain fitness programs in part because I liked the interview that Norman Doidge,MD, did with Michael Merzinich,Ph.D., who is one of the creators of the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program. The Posit Science program has recently been the object of research, the IMPACT study in particular, which I am reading good things about. The research appears to be designed well, and the tool works.
Evans and Burghardt talk about the research involved in the Mind Sparke program, so I tried it, and the Mind Sparke program is a great tool for attentional training. Wish I would have had it 30 years ago.
I keep Lumosity booted up on the computer for use between clients or phone calls, when I need to change my brain chemistry.
All three are part of my exercise for mental health strategy.
Play our free online brain games and exercises to help keep your mind sharp!
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Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
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