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Fitness Fuels Your Brain

heart and brain that walk hand in hand, concept of health of walking
What’s good for our hearts is good for our brains.

There are many things we can do for our brains. If you read my last blog piece, you know that I focused on some of the super foods that are known to be especially effective in sustaining the mind and nervous system. That post was the first in a series I’m writing about different ways to nourish our brains.

I emphasized that the foods we choose to eat every day, and how our bodies are able to digest those foods, wield enormous influence on our overall health and cognitive function.

Another fabulous type of ‘fuel’ for our brains comes with exercise. Research shows that being physically fit is one of the most powerful ways to improve mental capacities, as well as heart health and overall wellness.

Especially when we engage in physical activities that we enjoy. So if you don’t already, consider playing your favorite team sport, or walking outside in nature (my favorite!), swimming in a pool, or running, sprinting, biking, taking exercise or dance classes, boxing, lifting weights, etc. You get the idea.

The important thing is to create exercise opportunities for yourself on a regular basis that are fun, and that help you release stress while also giving you a good physical work-out.

By that I mean at a level that is appropriate for you, neither too little nor too much for your unique needs. Even if it means simply standing up from your bed, couch, or arm chair. It’s best to start modestly and gradually increase your activity level as you develop strength and stamina.

Experts confirm that our brains benefit most when we get both strength and aerobic training, ideally including at least some short bursts of high-intensity exertion. Those bursts can last anywhere from 20 seconds to 2 or 3 minutes.

Even just a few intensive exertions, each one separated by a couple of minutes of low-key activity, per day can profoundly impact your brain. If this is something you’re game to try, of course do it in a way that works for you. The level of burst intensity and frequency should be appropriate for your current fitness status.

Physical fitness confers some compelling benefits:

~ It improves overall blood flow, or circulation, throughout the body. Better circulation means a better supply of the critical nutrient, oxygen, to your brain and entire body.  Including, of course, your heart. In fact, exercise improves the cardiovascular system in a way that lessens the risk of stroke, cognitive failure, and degeneration of the nervous system.

~ It boosts the growth of neurons, and increases the speed with which we can process and react to information. Because exercise spurs the production of something called brain-derived neutrotrophic factor (BDNF), which is like Miracle Grow for our minds!

~ It helps generate feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, improving our sense of happiness and emotional resilience. Isn’t that enticing?

Treat yourself frequently to fun physical activity and increased fitness. Your brain and heart will thank you!

In my next blog piece for this nourish-your-brain series, I’ll focus on how stress and stress management impact cognitive function.

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