During this pandemic, exercise has been my number one strategy for keeping me resilient during uncertain times. If exercise was a pill, every doctor would be prescribing it! We know that when we move regularly our immune systems operate optimally. From an emotional and mental perspective, exercise is one of the best things we can do for our brain health, cognitive function and our mood!
Having a physical release to manage and use the fight and flight hormones of adrenalin and cortisol is key if we are to mediate the stress response. This is important if we are to dodge the long-term physical and mental health consequences of chronic stress.
In his book “Spark- How exercise will improve the performance of your brain,” Dr John Ratey explains how exercise transforms your mind. “Regular exercise will help you pay better attention, be more creative, you will remember things better and have more flexibility in your thinking!” I too have my own subjective experience of this. In my running days, if I encountered a problem or challenge, going for a run would improve my problem solving skills. Invariably, during or post workout, I would come up with a solution to my quandary.
When we move we use more of our brain and nervous system than any other activity. Consequently we release dopamine and nor-epinephrine, both of which are used in our attention system. This is what is targeted in psychiatry when people with ADHD are prescribed Ritalin. Exercise will make you more alert and more focused! A study from Stanford University measured the creativity of students. They discovered those students that were moving, performed better in the cognitive tests that they were given.
If you exercise for 5-10 minutes you will get an increase of other neurotransmitters such as serotonin that helps create a calming effect. Psychiatrists target this neuromodulator when they prescribe antidepressants. What’s more, you will boost the release of BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor), the “miracle grow” or fertilizer for the brain. This helps neuroplasticity, creating new connections in your brain.
In summary, exercise metaphorically oils the brain, allowing our mental cogs to function better. It also fertilizes our neural networks so that they can grow and make further connections.
So what should I do?
Do the activity that you enjoy and move regularly. If you feel your brain is in “lockdown” get moving to shift your mood! If you can do it outside, you will also get the additional benefit of vitamin D, which is important for inflammation and the immune system. If you can move with someone else (socially distant), you also get the benefits of social interaction that is critical for our mental and emotional health.
P.S. One of the silver linings associated with our lockdowns is that many of us are working from home. This gives us the freedom and ability to schedule “mobility breaks” throughout our working day. Set your timer every 45 minutes to get up and move, otherwise try these routines between zoom meetings or scheduled water and bathroom breaks.
Check out the following 5minute routines to keep you mobile in “iso”:
Mobility Maker- Move and alleviate postural tightness!
Metabolic Waker- Wake your metabolism and shake the potential perils of prolonged sitting!
And remember.... Speak to your doctor and physical therapist prior to commencing any exercise routine to ensure the suitability of movements for your specific medical and injury history. J.