Power up your brain—start moving

Is there a foolproof way to reduce stress and anxiety while boosting your memory? Raise your IQ even as you slow down the aging process? Become more creative and train your ability to focus at the same time? The answer is simple: Move.

In his book “The Real Happy Pill: Power Up Your Brain by Moving Your Body” Anders Hansen claims that physical activity, more even than Sudoku or crossword puzzles, optimizes our mental abilities and health in a way unparalleled by any drug, medication, or food supplement. And exercise doesn’t just enhance your health, energy and mood levels. Modern neuroscience and research has shown that physical exercise also has extraordinary effects on our cognition.

Evidence for moving

Anders Hansen’s research does not stand alone when it comes to move and improve your brain’s health. There are lots of research in this interesting scientific field. One study published in NeuroImage even gives us groundbreaking evidence of the importance of moving. The researchers found, for the first time, that young brain cells in adult mice that spent a month with running wheels in their cages did seem to be different from those in animals that did not run. For the experiment, the scientists injected a modified rabies vaccine into the animals, where it entered the nervous system and brain. They then tracked and labeled connections between brain cells and learned that compared to the sedentary animals’ brain cells, the runners’ newborn neurons had more and longer dendrites, the snaky tendrils that help to connect the cells into the neural communications network. They also found that more of these connections led to portions of the brain that are important for spatial memory, which is our internal map of where we have been and how we got there.

This study used mice, not humans. However, Henriette van Praag, principal investigator at the National Institutes of Health and senior author of the study, claims that there are several previous neurological studies involving human beings that also suggested that exercise might alter our brain structure in similar ways. And even if the possibility is still theoretical, it is a very good idea for the sake of the brain to be moving and active, says Henriette van Praag.

Walk and run

So, what kind of exercise should we embrace to effectively increase our brain health? Researchers at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland have found that fast walks or low-intensity running is far more effective than heavy weight-training or high-intensity intervals. This means that the step to getting started is not too steep and the effort to continuously move regularly is not too big.

To conclude, the message is unanimous: start moving. And if you have problems getting started, just put on your favorite music. In a studyfrom the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, jazz musician and Professor of Music Petri Toiviainen has found that the motor cortex of the brain is activated by the rhythm of music. In other words, music will force you to move.