Adding exercise to your lifestyle sparks your brain function to improve learning on three levels:
First, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, mood, and motivation;
Second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and
Third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.
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John Ratey, MD, author of SPARK
John J Ratey, MD, is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Research Synthesizer, Speaker, Author, and 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, and has authored or co-authored seven books.
His latest book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, presents an understanding of neurobiology with worldwide research to inspire the reader to embrace exercise as a means to achieve optimal brain performance.
We all know that exercise makes us feel better, but most of us have no idea why. We assume it’s because we’re burning off stress or reducing muscle tension or boosting endorphins, and we leave it at that. But the real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best.
In today’s technology-driven plasma-screened-in world, it’s easy to forget that we are born movers – animals, in fact – because we’ve engineered movement right out of our lives. As we adapted to an ever-changing environment over the past half million years, our thinking brain evolved from the need to hone motor skills. In order to survive over the long haul the hunter-gatherer ancestors had to use their smarts to find and store food. Relationship between food, physical activity, and learning is hardwired into the brain’s circuitry. Sedentary character of modern life is a disruption of our nature, and it poses one of the biggest threats to our continued survival.
Our culture treats the mind and body as if they are separate entities. However what neuroscientists have discovered in the past five years alone paints a riveting picture of the biological relationship between the body, the brain, and the mind.
To keep our brains at peak performance, our bodies need to work hard. Science of exercise cues the building blocks of learning in the brain; affects mood, anxiety, and attention; guards against stress and reverses some of the effects of aging in the brain; and in women can help stave off the sometimes tumultuous effects of hormonal changes.
If you had half an hour of exercise this morning, you’re in the right frame of mind to sit still and focus on the copy on this page, and your brain is far more equipped to remember it.
Emerging research shows that physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another. For the brain to learn, these connections must be made; they reflect the brain’s fundamental ability to adapt to challenges. The more neuroscientists discover about this process, the clearer it becomes that exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing, and able to learn.
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