This past week while attending the IDEA World Fitness Convention I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Dr. Terry Eckmann a professor from Minot State University in North Dakota. In many ways her lecture was very self-gratifying for those of us that work in fitness: exercise is good for you and it’s good for your brain. We feel this intrinsically, right? As in, it’s obvious to us because we feel this in palpable ways: we feel more refreshed, awake and are able to focus after a fantastic, butt-kicking, morning workout. But delving into the science of this matter is helpful because it provides legitimacy to these things that we think are simply feelings or nice side effects to exercise, when in fact there is some pretty powerful stuff going on in your head!
Quick Facts About the Human Brain
*The average brain weighs 3 to 4 pounds; or on average, 2% of your body weight.
*The average brain consumes 20% of your body’s energy.
*The average brain uses 1/5 of your body’s oxygen.
In terms of these quick facts, some interesting things to note are that 20% of your daily energy supply (essentially your calorie intake) is used by your brain, even though it’s only about 2% of your body weight. Food for thought, indeed!
30-minutes of Consistent Moderate to Vigorous Aerobic Activity has the following effects on the brain:
*Stimulates BDNF, which causes neurons to fire more efficiently. BDNF = Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factors.
*Increases neurogenesis in the hippocampus. I.e. you generate new neurons.
*Gets oxygen and glucose to the brain faster.
*Repetitive gross motor movement strengthens dendritic branching. The more branching there is, the more communication there is between these brain cells. In the end, you have a more “active” brain.
*Reduces obesity (obese persons have twice the risk of dementia).
*Improves mood and elevates stress threshold (i.e., things don’t bother us as much).
*Balances brain chemicals and system functions.
*Prepares the brain for optimal learning.
Exercise also increases levels of key neurotransmitters and neurotrophic factors, specifically: dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin and BDNF.
Dr. Eckmann told us that in many ways, BDNF is “miracle grow” for your brain. And the good news is that all the research shows that exercise increases BDNF and in studies, it continued to increase even after 90 days, which is amazing, as we all assumed that it would plateau at some point. Dr. Eckmann suggested that there hasn’t been distinct research into figuring out when increased BDNF production does plateau.
I walked out of her lecture focusing on a few things, but mainly my thoughts revolved around our motivations to exercise: sometimes you may not see the precise results in your body that you are looking for. It can be a let down when your abs are not perfect. Maybe you are gunning for a sub 2:00 hour half-marathon and you’re on your 3rd attempt. But, this lecture caused me to focus on the reasons to keep yourself motivated even if you haven’t met those aesthetic or performance goals yet, that is, that your body is responding to the hard work that you are putting in out there, it may just not always be as fast to work in the areas that we want to see it (to be clear, we know you can meet those aesthetic and performance goals, too, with a little time and hard work).
We may not be able to see the changes happening in our noggins, but all this research shows us that it’s happening. And that, my friends, is as a good a reason to get out of bed and show up for your workout as any that I can think of.
P.S. If you’re interested in Dr. Eckmann’s resources, she has an extensive list of the research articles she referenced/utilized in her lecture that is simply longer than is practical to include in this post. If you’re interested in receiving this information, please just give us a shout!