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Brain-Exercise1Many people exercise primarily to firm, tone, and/or lose weight. Those are all admirable goals, but they focus primarily on the outside of the body. A big “inside” part of the body affected by physical activity is your brain. We don’t put our heads into exercise equipment or walk upside down (at least not on purpose), so we tend not to think of the brain as an organ affected by exercise. But exercise improves brain function in both children and adults. “I like to say that exercise is like taking a little Prozac or a little Ritalin at just the right moment,” says John J. Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being.”

Why move to help your brain?

• Exercise increases blood flow within the body. This allows the brain cells greater access to the food and oxygen in the blood, which helps improve attention and memory function.
• Exercise increases levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine; neurotransmitters that make the brain’s neurons function more efficiently.
• Aerobic exercise actually causes neuron synapses to grow denser, improving the ability to learn and remember.
• Physical activity builds self-esteem. Even if your body doesn’t change dramatically, the improvement in your fitness level can cause you to feel better about yourself.
• Physical activity reorganizes the brain so that its response to stress is reduced and you feel less anxious. Excessive stress can alter brain cells, structure and function.
• Exercise protects the hippocampus, the part of your brain that governs memory and spatial navigation. It is one of the first regions of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

Children

Researchers have found that a significant relationship exists between physical activity and cognitive function in children aged 4-18 years. Physical activity improves a youth’s perceptual skills, intelligence quotient (IQ), achievement, verbal tests, mathematic tests, developmental level and academic readiness. Wow! So many good reasons to get your children off the couch and get them moving.

Adults

Remember the old song “the foot bone’s connected to the leg bone, the leg bone’s connected to the hip bone…?” Your body systems also interconnect when you move. During physical activity, the cardiovascular system ramps up. It in turn tells the renal system to move, which then tells your muscular system to get cracking. Those systems are overseen by the central and sympathetic nervous systems, which are also communicating with each other. And topping it all off is the brain. It is the bossiest part of your body; it controls virtually every other part. The brain will be the last part of you that dies. Take good care of it and move–your–body!!

Sources:
http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S37/28/70Q72/
http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/brainandex.html
http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/exercise-stress.aspx
http://www.alz.org/research/
http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/human-biology/dying-process.htm
http://kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?lic=1&ps=207&cat_id=20121&article_set=46284

Written by:
Donna Green, BS, MA
Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences
Ohio State University Extension

Reviewed by:
Liz Smith, M.S, RDN., L.D
NE Regional Program Specialist, SNAP-ED
Ohio State University Extension

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