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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Fitness


How Physical Exercise Helps Your Brain

Royane Real

If you really want your brain to function at its absolute best, if you want to be at your peak mentally, you'll have to learn how to give your brain what it really needs.

The first step is to remember that your brain is actually a part of your physical body, and your brain is affected by what you do to the rest of your body.

Your brain is nourished by the blood that comes in through your arteries, pumped by your heart. The blood carries the nutrients and the oxygen that your brain cells need.

So to have a vital, well functioning brain, not only will you need to eat the types of nutritious foods that your brain craves, but also an essential component of your program must be regular physical exercise. Does that surprise you?

You might wonder why it's important to get physical exercise if your main priority is to improve the way your brain works.

Aren't very intellectual people often physically inert? It's true that some people who use their brains a lot don't get a lot of exercise, but chances are that their brains would work even better if they exercised regularly. If you make exercise a regular part of your life, your brain will benefit a lot!

Numerous studies in humans and animals have found that the brain benefits from physical exercise. Here are some of the ways exercise helps brain function:

  • Exercise improves the oxygenation of the blood.
  • Exercise helps lower blood pressure. High blood pressure takes a toll on brain cells and greatly contributes to the danger of stroke.
  • Exercise improves circulation of blood within the brain.
  • Physical activity strengthens the heart, which is the pump that keeps everything going.
  • Exercise reduces the levels of artery-clogging cholesterol.
  • Exercising regularly can help relieve depression.
  • It improves mood and self-esteem.
  • Exercise helps control blood sugar level, which is very important, particularly for diabetics.
  • Exercise can boost the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which not only affect mood, but also help "lock in" memories when they form.
  • In animal studies, exercise appears to enhance the production of nerve growth factor, which helps the cells of the brain form new connections with each other.

Your ability to think clearly and creatively is dependent on the physical wellbeing of your brain and body. In turn, the wellbeing of your brain and body depends on the lifestyle decisions you make.

You can make decisions that increase the vibrant health of your body and brain, or you can make decisions that accelerate their decline.

Not all of us are keen about exercising our bodies, just as not all of us are keen about exercising our brains. As children, most of us loved to do both. Yet as we grow older we often lose the urge to exercise ourselves, either mentally or physically.

Until quite recently most people had to work hard physically for many hours a day. Now many of us spend hours sitting at desks, sitting in cars, and of course, sitting watching television, or staring at a computer screen. The human body was not designed for excessive sitting and lying around. It was designed to move.

What sorts of exercises will help your brain as well as your body? To improve the capacity of your heart and lungs, aerobic exercises are the best. This means the kind of exercise where you tax your body enough to raise your heart beat rate to a target level.

To gain aerobic benefits for your heart, lungs and circulatory system, aim to achieve a target heart rate that is 50% more than your rate at rest. You don't need to work up a sweat for your heart and lungs to benefit. You shouldn't overdo it either.

Learn to keep up a steady pace that still allows you to talk comfortably with a friend. To improve your aerobic capacity, exercise aerobically for about 20 minutes three or four times a week.

A form of exercise that can greatly improve the oxygenating capacity of the heart and lungs is swimming, especially swimming under water. The amount of time you spend holding your breath while swimming under water should be built up gradually. Swimming under water should not be attempted if you have any form of heart or blood vessel disease unless you have clearance from your doctor.

Another type of exercise that can be very beneficial for the brain is some form of mind-body exercise. There are many schools and variations of mind-body exercises, including yoga, tai-chi, and chi-gung. People who practice mind-body exercises regularly report they experience reduced stress, increased calmness, and greater clarity of thinking.

For many people, the most easily accessible and universally beneficial form of exercise is walking. You can walk alone or with others. You can walk indoors or outdoors. A walk can be part of a formal program, or an individual ramble through a favorite neighborhood or nature area.

Is it better to walk slowly or quickly? It's up to you. Some people find that a brisk walk is a great stress reliever, while others get more peace from a very slow and meditative walk. Your mind will benefit more if you stay totally focussed in the moment, rather than using this time to continue dwelling on your problems.

How much should you exercise? Whatever you choose to do it is important that you continue to do it regularly. Exercising vigorously for three hours on the weekend will not make up for a sedentary lifestyle the rest of the week. It will also leave you exhausted and sore, and unwilling to exercise again.

Choose an activity that you really enjoy. Don't pick anything too strenuous to begin with if you are not used to exercising. Aim to exercise at least four times a week or more, for at least half an hour at a time, up to an hour.

If you are over forty, are out of shape, or have some medical condition, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

This article is taken from the new book by Royane Real titled "How You Can Be Smarter - Use Your Brain to Learn Faster, Remember Better and Be More Creative" If you want to learn how you can use your brain better, download it today or get the paperback version at

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