The first book recommended to me after I became a personal trainer was "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain."
Written by John J Ratey, MD and Eric Hagerman, "Spark" argues that exercise helps produce "Miracle-Gro for the brain." Most of the evidence supporting this argument was drawn from the previous decade of studies on learning capacity, cognitive decline, and brain health. The book is now seven years old, making some of that evidence almost old enough to vote.
It"s not very "Radical" or "New" anymore, but it"s still crucial. The intervening years haven"t done much to blunt the message. In fact, the opposite is true. From pre-schools to assisted living centers, programs using this evidence have seen amazing success in areas of brain health and growth.
You won"t find medical advice here, or an argument to replace drugs with running. But for most brain related issues, exercise is now recognized as an additional method of treatment.
There are so many variables we can"t control affecting brain development and health. Environmental, trauma-related, and genetic factors to name a few. Exercise gives us a clear option to feed the brain more tools to grow, adapt, maintain, and rebuild itself. Here"s a variable we can control, and the evidence points to exercise"s ability to mitigate some of those others.
Exercise and physical skill building should be components of any program concerned with cognitive development, education, mental health, or rehabilitation.
Just a few brain-related concerns that exercise may help with:
Recovery from Birth Issues
Stress Response and Anger Management
ADHD (and attention capacity in general)
Alzheimer"s (and memory in general)
Hormonal Changes (throughout life)
There are no magic pills that solve every problem. But name something else that can boost your SAT score at 17, help manage chronic depression in your 30"s, lower your risk for Alzheimer"s in your 70"s, and help you with the Sunday crossword puzzle.
This is the part where, like a drug commercial, I suggest you "talk to your doctor about exercise today."
What"s the Exercise-Brain Connection?
From our earliest moments, we learn though movement. The brain is adapting in order to move faster, more efficiently, safer, and stronger. It grows to keep pace with our movements. You run to get faster, and not just because your legs are stronger. It"s because your brain is actually better at running. It changed. You reprogrammed your brain for running.
Think about the impact of that statement. You intentionally changed your brain to serve you better. Your brain is programmable. And reprogrammable. You can grow its capacity, on purpose. Simply through exercise.
If movement grows brains, it also heals them. It makes them more resilient, more elastic. Neuroplasticity is how able-to-flex-or-change your brain is. It"s also what makes learning possible and determines how easy that learning is.
Our brains heal. They bend, and reshape. Intentional exercise aids with these processes. Movement carves new pathways, and triggers the regrowth of damaged areas. And moderate to intense intentional movement seems to do this to the greater degree than the standard activities of daily living.