Exercise Your Brain


            How flexible is the brain? It was believe that we were born with a set number of brain cells and as we age we begin to lose some. Research now knows that the brain keeps making new cells every day. We can do much to keep our minds active and alert, no matter what age we reach. The brain will only show signs of aging if we allow it. Here are some programs to follow.


1.         Physical exercise – improves mood by increasing levels of dopamine and serotonin. They are known as neurotransmitters that effect attention and learning in a positive way. Physical exercise keeps the brain active and alert by


            A.        Increasing blood flow to the brain and promoting the creation of blood vessels in the brain. This allows more nutrients to reach the brain, thus allowing it to operate more efficiently, thus helping to prevent memory loss.


            B.         Exercise increases the release of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This acts like fertilizer to promote the growth of new cells while also strengthening the connections between brain cells, which enables learning to take place.


            C.        Aerobic exercise – improves circulation in the brain, if performed on a regular schedule. Activities that improve complex movements seem to improve the brain’s ability to process and retain information. This is where the martial arts shine. Many movements involve activity with another person, both moving in sync with each other. Martial arts activity strengthens neural connections that improve sensitivity to your partner while enhancing the ability to respond to them in union. Anyone who has practiced and perform two person katas or weapons can relate to the positive ebb and flow between both parties and the timing needed to bring off an excellent performance.


2.         Mental exercise – is also an ingredient needed to keep the brain healthy and   young. People who keep educating themselves, read, do crossword puzzles, debate, play chess, etc., seem to stay more alert all their lives. Again, enter the martial arts. Perfecting techniques, practicing katas and forms, developing new routines, and learning from other martial arts other than from your own provide mental challenges that keep the brain flexible, which does not allow us to get stuck in routine patterns of thinking and behavior. The brain responds best to learning and moving because it has a built in system to help conquer challenges. The best method is to cross train physically (martial artists can add running, weight lifting or swimming to their physical routines) and mentally (add painting, reading, singing or some other mental challenge).


3.         A well balanced diet effects neurotransmitter activity, as well as the development, regeneration and the repair of our brain cells.


            A.        Protein – the best source of glucose, which the brain uses as fuel.


            B.         Omega–3 - Provided by fish, mainly the cold water variety such as salmon, mackerel, halibut and herring. Another source is un-hydrogenated oils, such as canola, flaxseed and soybean. They are all good fats that regulate mood and keep brain cells healthy.


            C.        Iron – carries oxygen throughout the blood stream and into the brain. Sources are liver, lean red meat, poultry, fish and dry beans.


            D.        B vitamins – mainly B-6 found in chicken, fish, liver, eggs and folic acid from lentils. Black-eyed peas, kidney beans, spinach and nuts. These are excellent at fighting age-related declines in brain function.


            E.         Vitamins A, C and E - are antioxidants that bind up free radicals that damage nerve cells.

                        Vitamin A - found in milk, eggs and liver.

                        Vitamin C - is in fruits and vegetables.

                        Vitamin E - nuts, sunflower seeds and spinach.


4.         Give the brain time to relax and rest.


            A.        Meditation releases stress.


            B.         Faith - allows you to believe in something greater than yourself.


            C.        Goals - Striving with passion feeds the brain, which motivates us to grow. This strengthens neural connections and creates a more richer and satisfying life.


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This page was last updated on 02/20/11    

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