Movers and Shakers
I have a niece and she is crazy. I mean she is just plain nuts. She is also only two years old, so she is living up to the “terrible two’s” stereotype, if not surpassing it. Now I don’t mean to say that she is a bad kid – and she’s not, she’s absolutely adorable – but she just gets into everything. She is curious, as all children are. If something has her attention she’s going to make a full effort to explore and find out more about it. The need to explore is a human trait and is deeply rooted in our neural evolution. For thousands and thousands of years humans have been very active in exploring planet Earth (and other planets too). Our activity as a result of our exploration has had some pretty profound impacts on our brain development.
Humans are made to Move
Who wants to walk 12 miles with me today? Any takers? Probably not. It might surprise you to find out that our human ancestors traveled as much as 12 miles a day. They did this to find food, safety and to explore. Thousands of years of traveling did much to improve the brain functions of early man, and it still holds true for humans today.
Our brains make up only 2% of our body mass, yet account for 20% of our energy use. That’s an incredible fact considering that if the brain was like the rest of the body is should really account for 2% of energy use. Oxygen is vital to brain nourishment. Activity (exercise) does humans a lot of good. When the body is moving during exercise it pumps blood and oxygen through out the body and especially to the brain. Nitric Oxide is a flow regulating molecule that through exercise creates more blood vessels in the brain in some pretty key areas. This process of neurogenesis helps improve our cognitive ability.
Don’t be a couch potato
University of Washington Neurologist and author of the book Brain Rules, John Medina, shows that our society gives us a lot of reasons be a couch potato. Things like television, computers, and video games often allow people to sit around for hours upon hours with little body movement. Couple that with fast food and you wonder why America is the world’s fattest nation. John goes a step further and examined some of our most institutional environments that we created for ourselves and how they negatively impact our brain development and chemistry. I’m talking about classrooms and cubicles, the mainstays of our educational and professional systems. Think about it for eight plus hours a day our children and coworkers are often sitting motionless at a desk or trapped in some fabric-lined neural jail cell. For our brains to function optimally we as humans need to move.
It’s important to note that exercise alone will not improve your cognitive ability but repeated tests have shown a strong association to improved cognitive performance. In fact it was found that physically fit kids and adults had faster response times compared to their over weight counter parts. What’s more amazing is that physical activity and exercise were found to decrease your odds of Alzheimer Disease by 60% and stroke by an amazing 57%.
The great news is that you don’t have to run marathons to benefit from exercise. All you have to do is walk about 20 minutes a day three days a week and be more conscious of your dietary intake. It really doesn’t take much. It should also be noted that balance is key to exercise. Overdoing workouts will negatively impact your brain function. So be fit in a manner that comfortably works best for you. Walk when you can and breathe deep and often because Oxygen is so important your brain’s health and development.
We have the same brains our early ancestors did that walked 12 miles a day. So be active and make the most of your brain. I’ll leave you with this quote from John Medina that sums up why humans are made to move.
“We were not used to sitting in a classroom for 8 hours at a stretch. We were not used to sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours at a stretch. If we sat around the Serengeti for 8 hours – heck, 8 minutes – we were usually somebody’s lunch.”