If you really want to be at your absolute peak mentally, if you want to have a dynamic and well functioning brain, an essential component of your program must include regular physical exercise. Does that surprise you?
You might wonder why physical exercise is important if your main priority is to improve the functioning of your mind.
People often forget that the brain is actually part of the physical body, and it has very important physical needs. Your brain is nourished by the blood that comes in through your arteries, pumped by your heart. The blood carries the nutrients and oxygen that your brain cells need to burn for fuel.
Many scientific tests conducted on humans and animals have found that the brain benefits from physical exercise. Here are some of the ways exercise helps brain function:
? Exercise improves the oxygenation of the blood.
? Exercise helps lower blood pressure.
? Exercise improves circulation of blood within the brain.
? Physical activity strengthens the heart, which is the pump that keeps everything going.
? Exercise reduces the levels of artery-clogging cholesterol.
? Regular exercise can relieve depression.
? Exercise counteracts the damaging effects of long-term stress on the brain.
? It improves mood and self-esteem.
? Exercise helps keep blood sugar level, which is very important, particularly for diabetics.
? Exercise can boost the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which not only affect mood, but also help "lock in" memories when they form.
? In animal studies, exercise appears to enhance the production of nerve growth factor, which helps the cells of the brain form new connections with each other.
Even though we know that exercise is good for us, not all of us are keen about exercising our bodies, just as not all of us are keen about exercising our brains. As children, most of us loved to do both. Yet as we grow older we often lose the urge to exercise ourselves, either mentally or physically.
When you watch movies or television programs, or glance at magazines and newspapers, you will see many images of young, strong, healthy people running joyfully in the park or happily working out at the gym.
If you aren't currently actively exercising, you might assume that almost everyone else but you is busy running, swimming, biking, hiking, and lifting weights. The truth is that only a minority of adults exercises consistently.
It wasn't always this way. Until quite recently most people had to work hard physically for many hours a day. Now many of us spend hours sitting at desks, sitting in cars, and of course, sitting watching television, or staring at a computer screen. The human body was not designed for excessive sitting and lying around. It was designed to move.
What sorts of exercises will help your brain as well as your body? To improve the oxegenating capacity of your heart and lungs, aerobic exercises are the best. This means the kind of exercise where you tax your body enough to raise your heart beat rate to a target level.
To gain aerobic benefits for your heart, lungs and circulatory system, aim to do the type of exercise that will push your heart rate up to 50 % faster than than your rate at rest. You don't need to work up a sweat for your heart and lungs to benefit, and you don't need to overdo it. Learn to keep up a steady pace while doing some form of aerobic exercise that still allows you to talk comfortably with a friend. To improve your aerobic capacity, exercise aerobically for about 20 minutes three or four times a week.
Swimming is a form of exercise that can greatly improve the oxygenating capacity of the heart and lungs, especially swimming under water. The amount of time you spend holding your breath while swimming under water should be built up gradually. Swimming under water should not be attempted if you have any form of heart or blood vessel disease unless you have clearance from your doctor.
Another type of exercise that many people find very beneficial for their brains is some form of mind-body exercise. People who practice mind-body exercises regularly report they experience reduced stress, increased calmness, and greater clarity of thinking. There are many schools and variations of mind-body exercises, including yoga, tai-chi, and chi-gung.
For many people, the most easily accessible and universally beneficial form of exercise is walking. You can walk alone or with others. You can walk indoors or outdoors. A walk can be part of a formal program, or an individual ramble through a favorite neighborhood or nature area.
Is it better to walk slowly or quickly? It's up to you. Some people find that a brisk walk is a great stress reliever, while others get more peace from a very slow and meditative walk. Your mind will benefit more if you stay totally focussed in the moment, rather than using this time to continue dwelling on your problems.
How much should you exercise? Whatever you choose to do it is important that you continue to do it regularly. Exercising vigorously for three hours on the weekend will not make up for a sedentary lifestyle the rest of the week. It will also leave you exhausted and sore, and unwilling to exercise again.
It is therefore important to choose an activity that you really enjoy. Don't pick anything too strenuous to begin with if you are not used to exercising. Aim to exercise at least four times a week or more, for at least half an hour at a time, up to an hour. If you are over forty, are out of shape, or have some medical condition, check with your doctor before undertaking an exercise program.
If you start a regular exercise program that you enjoy, your body will thank you, and your brain will thank you too! You'll feel more energized both physically and mentally, and will be better able to handle life's challenges.
This article is taken from the new book by Royane Real titled "How to Be Smarter - Use Your Brain to Learn Faster, Remember Better, and Be More Creative" You can get the paperback version or download it from http://www.lulu.com/real