In his groundbreaking latest book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise And the Brain, John J. Ratey, M.D., gets right to the point when he writes, "... exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function ... " He bases this premise on the evidence he's garnered from hundreds of research papers on the subject. As a matter of fact, Spark is peppered with dozens and dozens of studies which, together, prove that aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain.
These studies show that when you get your blood pumping with aerobic exercise, there is:
- An increase in the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which act as regulators in the brain. These substances are responsible for controlling impulsivity, lifting moods, enhancing self esteem, improving focus and alertness, motivating, and improving cognition.
- The release of more BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). BDNF maintains the brain's infrastructure by improving brain-cell function and supporting neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells). Dr. Ratey calls BDNF "miracle-gro for the brain."
- The unleashing of more of the hormones IGF-1 (Insulin-Like Growth Factor), VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor), and FGF-2 (Fibroblast Growth Factor), which are necessary for brain-cell growth, connectivity, and neurogenesis. It is significant to note that although it is normal for these hormones to decline substantially when under chronic stress and as we age, they can be increased through exercise.
Dr. Ratey, a psychiatrist and clinical researcher by trade, shows that exercise is a good alternative for dealing with a whole host of conditions, including stress, anxiety, depression, attention disorder and hyperactivity, addictions, hormonal changes, and the negative repercussions of aging -- not to mention the improvement of one's ability to remember, process information, and learn.
He makes the case that aerobic exercise is often as effective as anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medicines. He does, however, seem to support the use of prescription drugs or a combination of exercise and drugs where appropriate.
If your knowing that aerobic workouts can improve your cardiovascular health, control your weight, and give you more energy hasn't inspired you to get up off the couch (and from in front of the computer) and to the gym to get the exercise you need, then maybe learning that cardio optimizes your brain function, too, will do the trick.
Reading Dr. Ratey's Spark is the smart thing to do AND you'll be smarter for having read it. For more info: www.JohnRatey.com
Ed Mayhew, author of Fitter for Life and Fitter After 50 and -- coming soon -- You Can Grow Younger: The Boomer's Guide to Slowing And Reversing Aging