Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Exercise: The Miracle Gro of Our Neurological Landscape

How Does Exercise Improve Brain Function?

We all know that exercise is good for us. We know that it tones, builds muscle, increases strength and stamina. For many of us though, exercise is the medicine one swallows while holding our noses. Its drudgery, monotonous and we often don’t see the results we envision or expect. If physical attributes weren’t enough to get you to exercise routinely, if your desired results aren’t being realized, here’s some exciting information that just might inspire you to commit to exercising and it has nothing to do with transforming yourself into Adonis.

Allen Bowling, MD, PhD has been researching the relationship between exercise and neurological function. More and more research is now showing that it plays an important if not essential role in treating neurological conditions. We can grasp how exercise helps strengthen muscle which protects our bones, improving fatigue seems reasonable; intuitively these make sense, but what about depression and neurological conditions? How can exercise directly and positively affect the brain? Until recently I thought it was simply mind over matter. You get yourself up and get going and by doing so you get your mind going in a more positive thinking pattern. Although this cognitive approach to exercise is helpful there is a lot more going on here than we ever imagined. In fact, Dr. Bowling says that if exercise were a medication it would be the number one prescription he would write.

If you’re anything like me, you are not satisfied with what you should do. You ask why and soon to follow is how does it work? The following information is based on ground-breaking research and should be taken seriously by everyone, not just those with neurological conditions. You will see that it is beneficial for overall neurological health.

The Proof is in the Pudding or in This Case the Brain.

There are important proteins found in the brain and the spinal cord known as Nerve Growth Factors (NGF). There are multiple NGF’s that have been identified over the years. NGF was the first. Another commonly studied NGF is Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). NGF’s do exactly as their name implies, they stimulate nerve cells to grow. They’re the Miracle Gro of the neurological landscape. They have the following characteristics:

1) Nerve-regenerating Effects: BDNF significantly change the structure and function of the nervous system

2) Nerve Protecting Effects: Protect nerve cells from various types of injury

3) Anti-inflammatory Effect: Affect immune system in such a way that they decrease inflammation

Hardwired vs Plasticity

Hardwired, inflexible and undeviating view of brain function is outdated dogma. Our brain is capable of adapting quite well and efficiently. It was once believed to have specific areas which performed specific functions and although this is true, it is not written in stone as it was once thought. This process of adaptation is called plasticity.

MRI’s of some cadaver’s brains have been found to contain multiple plaques. Based on the location of these plaques one would expect that the individual in question would have had symptoms during their lifetime and in fact in many cases there is no correlation with MRI results post-mortem and clinical symptoms when the person was alive. We now know that it is possible for the brain to regain previously lost function through the process of plasticity. It is able to duplicate that lost ability, at times on the opposite side of the brain.

Exercise stimulates the production of various growth factors; it causes brain levels of growth factors to increase. Not only does it improve physical function, these studies show that it also improves non-physical function such as sensation or thinking processes. Thirty minutes of exercise was shown to increase the blood levels of BDNF.

I find when I understand the evidence; I can more easily commit myself to a challenge. I no longer walk aimlessly hoping for positive change but rather with a purpose and clear goal and expectation. Beyond faith, I now have the vision of a truly powerful healing experience. Every step I take I add a bit more miracle gro.

1 comment:

about Mind Body Therapy said...

Very much agree to the article posted here. Exercise is really good for our brain because basically it improves the blood supply in our body as well to the other areas of it like to the brain.