Saturday, 4 February 2012

The amazing power of exercise

For the last 6 months I have been studying and reading about the amazing power of exercise on the brain. I have been reading Dr John Ratey’s articles and books, and I would like to share with you some of the fantastic research he has done.

John J Ratey, MD, is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Research Synthesizer, Speaker, and Author, as well a Clinical Psychiatrist maintaining a private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has lectured and published 60 peer reviewed articles on the topics of Aggression, Autism, ADHD, and other issues in neuropsychiatry.

Dr. Ratey expressed openly his passion about the benefits of even moderate exercise; one doesn't have to run 5 miles a day to see improvements in attention, energy levels and mood. Even brisk walks around the block can help.

 Dr. Ratey, "Exercise is the single most popular tool we have to optimize our brain function....exercise not only makes us smarter; it also makes us less stressed, depressed and anxious." In fact, his books and articles isn't only about exercise and how it improves ADHD, stress, depression and anxiety symptoms; they also include information on addiction, hormonal changes and aging.

Dr. Ratey heard about a Physical Education project in Naperville, IL schools where all students were exercising daily, in an attempt to improve NAP scores and health and fitness of the students. In studying these children, Dr. Ratey found something interesting- the exercise was improving the student's ability to learn. Until then, most research on the benefits of exercise focused on seniors' health. Dr Ratey started to use exercise as part of his treatment for all his patients. Now, it became clear that exercise helped not only children, but people of all ages who struggled with more than just weight and obvious health issues; but with psychiatric and other challenges.

Some of the things Dr. Ratey discovered:
  • Exercise increases brain-cell production in the hippocampus; the brain's center for memory and learning. Thus, it improves cognition.
  • Exercise combats stress hormones and helps in the production of antioxidants.
  • Exercise improves anxiety, panic and worry almost as fast as medications.
  • If you move your body, it tricks the brain into coming out of hibernation and reduces symptoms of depression.
  • Exercise boosts norepinephrine and dopamine, which is exactly what ADHD medications target.
  • Exercise staves off addiction cravings. For smokers trying to quit, 5 minutes can help with the associated irritability.
  • Women report significant improvement of PMS symptoms.
  • Those over 60 who exercise regularly at 60 to 70 percent of their maximum heart rate led to a size increase of the brain's cortex.

Many find starting an exercise routine to be nearly impossible. But for those with ADHD, it's imperative. Dr. Ratey states that for those with ADHD, exercise will increase focus and decrease impulsivity; there is less of a need to fidget and move; and there is increased mental clarity and focus.

Dr. Ratey explains that if you miss a few days or even a week or so, your brain will respond again quickly- as soon as the second day back on track.

Dr. Ratey discuss how the latest research is clear about how lifestyle influences the mental hazards that coming with aging, and how the same things that kill the body kill the brain. Running to lower our blood pressure and strengthen our heart also keeps the capillaries in the brain from collapsing or corroding and causing a stroke. Lifting weights to prevent osteoporosis from devouring our bones releases growth factors the make dendrites bloom.

Getting older is unavoidable, but falling apart is not. Exercise is one of the few ways of counter the process of aging because it slows down the natural decline of the stress threshold. Exercise is preventive medicine as well as antidote. Age happens. There’s nothing you can do about the why, but you can definitely do something about the how and the when. And the sooner you start the better chance you have to body and brain fit and healthy.

Whatever time or type of exercise you choose, there's one main thing to remember. As Nike so smart expresses it, "just do it."

Yours in Health & Fitness,

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