According to science, I really should be outside in the chaotic, and thus stimulating, real world with all its intricate fractal patterns and surprising movement and uneven surfaces. Complexity and variation stimulate the brain and the body - and the harder the body is pushed, the more the brain will develop - reducing stress, increasing learning and postponing old age.
Summary from today's Brain Science Show:
- exercise stimulates brain growth as well as cures depression
- that is probably because the brain evolved for processing motion
- exercise postpones old age in both the body and the brain
- HIIT produces HGH, the fountain of youth, after the age of 30
During my morning walk today I listened to an episode (nr 111) of MD Ginger Campbell's Brain Science. The episode was an updated and edited version of Dr Campbell's interview with John Ratey that she did after he published his book "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" in 2008
Among the more interesting findings I noticed the following (but do listen to the entire show, if you have the time):
Stress in the form of exercise (intermediate to intense, including jogging, weight lifting and stretching), caloric restriction (fasting) and learning increases the production and release of BDNF which promotes plasticity in the brain. Exercise also helps in creating a balance in the brain chemistry between various neurotransmitters and thus preventing disorders like anxiety or depression.
Increased plasticity means that the brain cells are prone to form new connections, to adapt, to learn. BDNF and plasticity really is the holy grail for people interested in self development - and almost all you need to do is get out there and exercise.
Our brains evolved to process movement, to control our limbs, eye-hand coordination, understand and forecast the environment during movement and hunting, to process motion both externally (IRL) and internally, virtually to test scenarios. This processing and forecasting evolved into more elaborate models of other creatures, including oneself and gave rise to self awareness and higher level thinking.
Thus the connections between input areas (back) and output areas (front) in the brain, or between the brain and the body, are more intimate than previously thought.
Movement activates the brain, and changes its chemistry to enable learning. Muscle stress, heart stress and blood vessel stress all ignite increased cell division through the release of mitogens. These actually stimulate stem cells to divide and swim up to the brain and travel into the Hippocampus to form more brain cells. And that is something you want!
When the heart rate is increased,cells in the heart atrium progressively produce more and more ANP that targets the Hypothalamus in the brain to turn offthe stress.
Exercise tricks the brain and the body into thinking that you are still young, still foraging for food and prey. High intensity workouts, even for as little as 20-30 seconds (albeit needs to be flat out) cause production of HGH (human growth hormone) and IGF1. The HGH literally melts off excess belly fat and turns it into muscle. IGF1 helsp insuline work better, which means a constant and better flow of fuels into the cells. That keeps blood glucose levels balanced, while promoting cells to survive better, bind to each other and thus keep them both alive and connected.
Yesterday I listened to a podcast about how to treat and train your dog (more about that in another post), including lessons on how to treat and train your kids. The dog trainer used the concept of a silly zone, where he would stop the car and let his kids be as silly as they liked outside, rather than him becoming angry or the car ride intolerable.
Brain scientists and teacher are now starting to use a similar "time in" instead of "time out" for kids that can't sit still during class. That means they get to sit on a stationary bike or run or perhaps play some sports for a while to alter their brain chemistry before getting back to class.
John Ratey recommends everybody to go for 4-5 at least 40 minute brisk walks a week, more if you are older, with a heart rate of at least 65% of max. NB: It's even better if you do it with a partner.
If you want something a little extra you could throw in 1-2 high intensity intervals, consisting of 3-4 intervals of 30 seconds flat out to exhaustion. That is enough to start production of HGH, which really is the fountain of youth (and that otherwise is stopped being produced around the age of 30).
So, yes you should feel bad for being indoors and reading this. Go out and play in the green. Vigorously!
PS: I'm writing this outside on my roof terrace (and yes, its almost October and in Sweden and I'm only wearing a t-shirt). It's not cold yet, and the sun is out, but remember that freezing is also a good stress factor for the body and brain.
If you understand Swedish you should check out this post on Hjärnfysik. Johan Renström explains in more detail, yet with clear and succinct language, what modern research is saying about depression and exercise.