It turns out that mental benefits of physical exercise is the key component of two very important and recently discovered aspects of the human brain, called neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, and my brain is where I have 'mental'.
In fact, researchers at Duke University studied people suffering from depression for 4 months and found that 60% of the participants who exercised for 30 minutes three times a week overcame their depression without using antidepressant medication. This is the same percentage rate as for those who only used medication in their treatment for depression.
And research is showing that we can get the benefits of physical exercise in brief bursts, even 10 minutes of exercise, if we do the HIIT or high intensity interval training.
Please do not let that high intensity phrase scare you off. I am 61 (8-3-09) and I exercise regularly at my YMCA. When I am not able to get to the Y for one reason or another, I follow the HIIT protocol of Scott and Angie Tousignant who have created a workout routine for couples that does not have to include huge barbells, steroids, trainers, ect. You can do it in your basement with tools no more sophisticated than exercise balls or dumbbells, it that. If you follow then link, about halfway down the page, you will see Pat and her husband Bill.
Pat is 82 and her husband is 89. If they can do HIIT, I can to.
In fact, I adapt the Tousignant routine to reflect that I am not very limber these days, but I can still do 10 minutes of 30 second intervals of calisthenics like running in place, treadmill, skipping rope, or jumping jacks.
I get winded and sweaty, and my brain gets mental benefits of exercise including neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.
Neurogenesis is the daily (I repeat, daily) growth of new neurons, which I can keep, so that they can migrate to the places in my brain most needing them if I challenge them with a novel learning experience and keep the stress hormones to a minimum, which is another benefit of exercise.
No one knew that the human brain did this until recently, and the discovery is overthrowing decades of neuroscientific dogma.
Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe the capacity of the human brain to continually form new connections between neurons with each new experience.
The more neurons I have connecting, the more brain power I can bring to any issue I might have going on, and the less likely I am to lose my mind to alzheimer's disease.
Both neuroplasticity and neurogenesis are impacted by physical exercise.
In fact, the experts in neuroplasticity all write about taking care of the pillars of brain fitness, which are physical activity/exercise, nutrition, including omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experience.
The best resource about the mental benefits exercise concept is
Brainfit for Life by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., neuroscientists at the University of Michigan.
Brain Fitness The new standard for total wellness.
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