Brain and Fitness

Perhaps you have a rough idea about how exercise affects your health, weight, and energy levels. But do you know about its impact on the brain?

The neurological benefits are clear and significant.


How your brain benefits from sport

People exercise for different reasons, but many people stay fit to prevent serious health conditions. These conditions include heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and stroke (Godman, 2014).

Other people work out primarily to lose weight. Only a few people exercise with the intent to improve their brain functioning.

Do you think about neurology when you hit the gym? You might after reading this.

Exercise improves cognitive functioning, mental health, and memory; it also hinders the development of certain neurological conditions.

In an article entitled Exercise is Brain Food (2008), Ploughman presents the three dominant neuroscientific theories that explain how physical activity positively impacts cognition.

  1. While exercising, oxygen saturation and angiogenesis (blood vessel growth) occur in areas of the brain associated with rational thinking and as well as social, physical and intellectual performance.

  2. Exercise drops stress hormones and increases the number of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, which are known to accelerate information processing.

  3. Exercise upregulates neurotrophins (brain-derived neurotrophic factor, insulin-like growth factor, and basic fibroblast growth factor). These support the survival and differentiation of neurons in the developing brain, dendritic branching, and synaptic machinery in the adult brain (ibid).

Now it gets technical. 

Neurological benefits that come from physical activity:

  • Decreased stress

  • Decreased social anxiety

  • Improved processing of emotions

  • Prevention of neurological conditions

  • Euphoria (short-term)

  • Increased energy, focus and attention

  • Hinderance to the aging process

  • Improved memory

  • Improved blood circulation

  • Decreased ‘brain fog’

All of these benefits are connected to neurogenesis (the generation and creation of new neurons) and neuroplasticity (synaptic plasticity, or alterations to the strength of already existing synapses).


How Does Exercise Improve Concentration and Remove Brain Fog?

Brain fog, also known as ‘clouding of consciousness’ is when people experience a degree of cognitive impairment. Symptoms may include poor focus, lack of concentration, and difficulty remembering things.

It can last minutes to decades, depending on the cause.

Doctor Aviva Romm (2017) outlines ten different possible causes that may lie at the root of cloudy thinking or brain fog:

  • Stress, overwhelm, and distraction

  • Fatigue

  • Blood sugar imbalances

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Gut microbiome disruption

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • ‘Brain-flammation’

  • Hormonal shifts

  • Thyroid and adrenal imbalances

  • Side-effects of medication

The reason why it may happen is wide and varied. It is unlikely that exercising alone will remove brain fog entirely.

But because physical activity improves memory and learning, it also activates different parts of the brain and enables the release of the BDNF chemical and norepinephrine neurotransmitters; these increase alertness, concentration, and energy.

By taking walks regularly or exercising at a higher intensity, you are nurturing a healthier brain.

You can read more here.


Sport and brain // personal experience

By Leila Fischer

Hello, my name is Leila. In this article I tried to share my experience about how sport has affected my life.

How windsurfing led me to an English teaching career. 

Before I'd ever been sat at the front of a classroom, I was learning to windsurf at a mainly Russian speaking station in Vietnam. It was my first time as a student since university and I found it a real struggle to learn even the basic windsurfing moves. At 40 years old my age was against me, but actually, the language was the biggest obstacle. 

Many of the windsurfing instructors were unable to speak English and even the ones who felt they were proficient enough to take on an English-speaking student often confused the most simple anatomical vocabulary needed for teaching sports. I was shocked that people were living in South-East Asia whilst only being able to speak Russian! 

In equal measure, I was impressed with the levels of patience some of these instructors had with their older beginner students. Most of these guys had been riding since they were children and were really talented. It must be exasperating to watch someone repeatedly fail to follow easy instructions and execute simple tasks, I thought! I also noted how the instructors I chose to teach me were not necessarily the best riders but had the ability to empathize with others and understood the importance of clear instructions, repetition, and using hand gestures to clarify meaning. So, when one asked me to teach them English, I thought - I've got this! 

Fast forward 7 years, and I'm a qualified ESL teacher, with experience teaching both adults and kids at home and in the classroom. However, I will never forget my very first student's answer to the opening question of my very first lesson "where are you from and why do you want to study English" I asked. "I am from Moscow, capital of big country and I decide to study English because teacher wear bikini"!!! he replied! I felt mortified that I'd become so submersed in beach life I hadn't thought to change my dress code for students before trying to correct their articles and tenses.

 I do miss my days teaching under palm trees in the tropics, but I'm much more comfortable in my profession knowing I am now a fully qualified teacher with years of varied work experience behind me. The days of wearing bikinis to class and telling my students it's not okay to open a beer until after the lesson feel like another life time ago.

___________

So sometimes your hobby can guide you to a new chapter of your life. And it's so wonderful when you can combine and improve both activities with more benefits.

That’s all by now,

Stay amazing <3

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