EXERCISE AND THE MIND

Physical Fitness Can Help Improve Your Life and Probably Even Your Grades

By Glade Knight

E-mail author at gfk1216@westminstercollege.edu

According to a study by the Society for Neuroscience, voluntary exercise can increase the number of brain cells in the hippocampus (a brain structure important in learning and memory).  Exercise also helps counter the effects of stress and boosts the brain’s ability to fight off infections.

Although it was once thought that mammalian brains stopped their production of new cells early in life, new research suggests that the human brain continues to manufacture new cells throughout their life.  This growth is increased even more when faced with new challenges, such as:

§         A New Social Opportunity

§         Increased Instances of Learning

§         Enhanced Physical Activity

This information should be of particular interest to students, who 1) need high brain function(s), 2) are under stress, and 3) are exposed to many different ailments on campus.  The very nature of receiving a higher education exposes students to many new social opportunities.  They also are learning on a regular basis.  Any student wishing to maximize brain cells, and thereby do better in school, should consider establishing a regular pattern of exercise as well.

Further research by the Society for Neuroscience also points to the possibility of repairing brain damage or slowing the effects of aging on the brain using specialized exercise programs.  Other theories involve exercise as a possible prevention for, or slowing of, diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  Research in this area is still on-going, but results are hopeful.

More good news! - Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial.  Moderate daily activity (30 minutes of fast walking) can extend a persons life by a considerable amount.  It can reduce instances of stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and colon cancer, among other things.  People who have been fairly sedentary find that engaging in various physical activities also improves their quality of life.  It can help with depression and create changes in the brain chemistry that will improve cognitive functioning and perk up ones mood.

        According to the findings published by the Board of Regents of Georgia State University, 60% of adults are not active enough and 25% are not active at all.  They also list a lack of exercise combined with poor diet as the 2nd leading cause of death in the United States.  If you haven’t been very active, any increase in your level of activity will be beneficial.  Just like a ball that is put into motion and only slows down with the resistance caused by the gravitational pull, once you start with an activity, it is likely to continue in less you let something get in the way.  One activity might just lead to another – walking to running, climbing stairs to aerobics, etc.  It is hard to get up from the couch and get moving initially, but once you are doing something, it is easier to keep doing it.

Many people avoid physical activity because they think it will be unpleasant or because they think they don’t have the time.  Exercise doesn’t have to be odious and some physical activity can be worked into almost anyone’s normal daily routine.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park as far as possible from where you have to be and walk, find a sport you like and participate in it on a regular basis, play outside with your kids, DO something, anything physical.

For a list of some things you can do to increase your level of physical activity, click on the link below.

Physical Activity List

        You might be surprised to find out how many calories you can burn doing things you already love to do.  If you are curious to check on the number of calories used up during a certain activity, check to see if it is on the list published by the American College of Sports Medicine by clicking here: ACSM Chart  There are many websites that can also provide you with this type of information. To use a calorie calculator to determine how many calories you use for a given activity click here Calorie Calculator I would advise picking two or three of your favorite activities and comparing them to find which will give you the best benefit in the least amount of time.  You also might try and find a new activity that would fit into your daily routine and work it in.

        Georgia State University has developed a “physical activity pyramid” which, like the food groups pyramid, gives you an idea of how much you need of what, when.  They advocate 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week with aerobic, flexibility and strength exercises several days a week for various durations as well as recreational activities 2 to 3 times a week.  To see their pyramid, follow the link below.

        Physical Activity Pyramid

        Another great thing about becoming physically active is that it increases your metabolism – so even when you’re done exercising, your body is still burning calories.  And contrary to what many people think, exercise has been shown to lessen appetite, not increase it.  According to the Medical Network and Hamilton University Hospital, the more overweight someone is, the more their appetite is likely to decrease with exercise.

        Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a measure of weight in relation to height and is a good indicator of fitness.  Your BMI will show whether you are at a good weight for your height, or whether you need to lose some weight.  BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in pounds by your height in inches and multiplying that total by 703.  If you are less than 250 lbs., you can use the link below to access the Surgeon General’s BMI Index Chart.  Another good website that can be used by anyone to calculate BMI is the Center for Disease Controls.  Follow one of these links to visit their website: For adults: CDC Adults  For children: CDC Children

        BMI hyperlink

        If you are someone who is interested in increasing your brain power, improving your overall mood, and decreasing the likelihood of declining brain function, exercise may be just the ticket. 

        If you have the desire to become fit, but need some help getting started, contact your local community center for fitness events they sponsor.  Tourist and visitors centers will often have maps showing hiking trails, biking areas, safe walking zones and lists of places to go horseback riding, engage in sporting activities of all kinds, etc.  Many health insurance plans have this type of information available as well.

Whatever your method, getting fit and staying fit is the way to go.  And who knows, your GPA might even become more fit as well! 

Resources:

·    American College of Sports Medicine http://www.acsm.org

·    Georgia State University, Department of Kinesiology and Health

·    Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Medical Encyclopedia, 1999

·    Society for Neuroscience http://web.sfn.org/

·    Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity, 2001

·    Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/sgr/alaglan.htm