Dec 26, 2011
Move, rest, read, move again, learn, stretch. Brain and Exercise make the best couple ever. Greek Philosopher Socrates said once “The Softening of the body involves a serious weakening of the Mind”. Lately there has been an increasing interest in the connection between the brain and the body. The Brain controls the body through motor networks involving voluntary and intentional movement and sensory networks connecting our body, muscles, joints to the brain and informing where are we in space in a phenomena called Proprioception.
Not every movement is created equal. Crossword puzzles, Sodoku, computer games, and DVDs—there’s no end to the products touting their brain-boosting benefits. But in this multimillion-dollar business, one crucial tool has been overlooked: the enormous power of physical movement.
For the last 10 years I have been so intrigued about the connections of the brain and the body that I wanted to share a post explaining the partial scientific research for my book: Super Body, Super Brain.
There is an increasing interest on how Exercise can help our Brains. A recent study from scientists in Taiwan shed some light on what exercise can do to our brains. We can challenge our brain with movement. The more challenging the movement the more brain areas are involved.
Result: Neural connections get stronger, new connections are formed and new nerve cells are created among other benefits.
Extensive research is showing that may be up to us to challenge our brain NOT ONLY with words but with MOVEMENT.
Here are the most important research fields in the area of the brain and exercise:
Enriched Environments. Exercise helps our brain work better but also create more synaptic connections. When our brains and bodies are in these enriched environments we are happier and in better shape than if we were in sedentary locations. Here is one of the most important studies showing the implications of exercise for brain health.
1.- Greenough, W. T., and A. M. Sirevaag. “Plasticity of GFAP-immunoreactive astrocyte size and number in visual cortex of rats reared in complex environments.” BrainResearch540, no. 1–2 (Feb. 1, 1991): 273–278.
6 months ago i wanted to know who is one of the top experts that is connecting physical exercise and cognitive function. So I emailed Dr Arthur Krammer a Professor, Department of Psychology Director, Beckman Institute. Dr Krammer is one of the top scientists studying the connection of exercise and cognitive function. I wanted to ask him what were the implications of physical activity in one of the most important areas of the Brain: the hippocampus. Here is his original study:
2.-Krammer, Arthur F., et al. “Aerobic fitness is associated with hippocampal volume in elderly humans.” Hippocampus 19, no. 10 (Oct. 2009): 1030–1039.
Cardiovascular activity is connected with intelligence: exercise your beautiful heart. Can our heart makes us smarter? Charles Hillman Ph.D is a top scientist studying the connection of the heart on cognitive function so I emailed him asking him about his research and his findings. My program uses actively the heart so I was extremely interested. He was so extremely nice when he answered me back with his incredible findings. Here is this groundbreaking study:
3.-Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition. Hillman CH, Erickson KI, Kramer AF.
I still remember when neurobiologist Dr John Martin, expert in the motor system emailed me on a Saturday at 8 am revealing the incredible findings on the following study. Both of us have extensively discussed that the more we use our brain the better brain connections and that same principle applies to physical exercise: The study reflects that animals whose brains were challenged during exercise not only increased brain activity but also got smarter. This is exactly what this revolutionary study says. New York Times mentioned it and did a great article about the study implications. This is the study:
4.-Jen, C. J., and H.-I. Chen. “Differential effects of treadmill running and wheel running on spatial or aversive learning and memory: Roles of amygdalar brain-derived neurotrophic factor and synaptotagmin.” Journal of Physiology 587 (July 1, 2009): 3221–3231.
It was May 6th 2005 when I was trying to make sense of my program. I found the incredible scientific research about the cerebellum: 50% of your neurons packed in an area responsible for balance and coordination! I found these great two retired scientists in Palo Alto who have been studying the cerebellum and they found out that the cerebellum also has powers to makes us smarter, think better, in other words the cerebellum is good for cognitive powers!! Check out this wonderful study:
Taking a picture next to a huge cerebellum: Museum of Natural History NYC
Cerebellum packs 50% of all the brain’s neurons: The cerebellum is responsible for balance, coordination, posture, intention and cognitive
5.-Leiner, Henrietta C., and Alan L. Leiner. “The treasure at the bottom of the brain.”
We can create new neurons no matter our age! Yes! Neurogenesis is a process where we can create fresh new neurons. This process is very different from Neuroplasticity. Neurogenesis we know it happens in two sections of the brain: the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus and the Olfactory bulb. However when I was doing my research I found this great scientist in Turin, Italy where his team has just researched on how we can create new neurons in the cerebellum! Yei!! If this gets translated into humans (so far only rabbits were used in the experiment) it would have astounding benefits for aging, neurodegenerative diseases or teenagers and children brain development. I always had the feeling that if we challenge the cerebellum via complex movements we can create more powerful connections and why not, new neurons! Here is his wonderful research mentioned in my book:
6.-Ponti, G., B. Peretto, and L. Bonfanti. “Genesis of neuronal and glial progenitors in the cerebellar cortex of peripuberal and adult rabbits.” PLoS ONE yes that is the publication,
The key is motor plasticity. One of the most innovative trends that we know in fitness is that exercise complexity increases attention, concentration and physical performance so i was so incredibly surprised when i found this study and its implications for brain activity when we learn more complex tasks: Like in Super Body, Super Brain!
7.-Selective synaptic plasticity within the cerebellar cortex following complex motor skill learning
Few years ago I emailed Dr Small A. Scott MD to ask him about about his research and how could we create new neurons by exercising aerobically . His study focuses exactly in that area of research. New York Times titled an article “Lobes of Steel”. If we exercise our heart, at least 20% of the blood supply reaches the brain, so when monitor a specific section of the brain voila: new fresh neurons in this specific section of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus showed up!…Fantastic news since this can have tremendous implications for Dementia and Alzheimer. This is his original study:
8.-Small A, Scott, Gage, Fred et al. “An in vivo correlate of exercise-induced neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus.” TK. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of United States of America, March 27, 2007 vol. 104 no. 13 5638-5643
Great Video showing the benefits of exercise from a Medical Doctor
Once that I was developing my Super Body, Super Brain program I really found myself trying to research on the mechanisms that connect the central nervous system and the spinal cord with the rest of the body so when I found this study i was so excited since it says that when you train your body with specific movements it has spectacular physiological implications. These specific movements produces changes in the motor cortex and the spinal cord- The key is motor plasticity!
9.-Motor training induces experience-specific patterns of plasticity across motor cortex and spinal cord
DeAnna L. Adkins,1,2 Jeffery Boychuk,1,2 Michael S. Remple,3,4 and Jeffrey A. Kleim1,21Brain Rehabilitation Research Center, Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Hospital, Gainesville; 2Department of Neuroscience,
I hope you have enjoyed reading my journey and how all of us we can reach our maximum potential if we follow specific exercises: Plato in the voice of Socrates was totally right:
He said: “Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it”