Exercise outside for brain health

Research Supports Exercise for Brain Health

Want a Healthier and Happier Brain? Exercise for Brain Health.

Three weeks ago, I attended the International Conference on Brain Health where the presenters discussed brain health at all ages. They were among the smartest neuroscientists in the United States. Near the end of the conference, Dr. John Ratey, Professor of Neuropsychiatry at Harvard Medical School, summarized the latest research leading to the two most important lifestyle changes that most contribute to smarter and happier brains, at all ages. Exercise for brain health was first in the order of priority:

  1. Exercise
  2. Smart nutrition

It was both reassuring and gratifying to hear top experts in this field of science both confirm what we have been teaching at the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute all along and provide more science to back up our curriculum. At the core of our training is the idea that people can teach their bodies how to make their own medicines by following a balanced approach to health and wellness. A top way to open your body’s own internal pharmacy? Get outside and move (exercise).

Parents and caregivers note: Making exercise and movement a part of our lives and our health starts at an early age. When our children (and now our grandchildren) would complain: “I’m bored!” I would simply smile and respond: “Boredom is a choice. Go outside and play!” Still bored, “Go outside and play some more!”

You may wonder why exercise for brain health is so good. Think of your brain as the greatest garden ever grown. What grows gardens? Fertilizer. When you move briskly, your body movements send neurochemical “text messages” to your brain prompting it to produce a natural fertilizer called brain growth factor (BGF), which neuroscientists dub “miracle grow for the brain.” According to Dr. Ratey, “exercise is the mother of all brain growth factors,” and noted neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter maintains “exercise is the number one brain growth factor.”

Movement not only makes you grow more brain cells, it makes new nerve pathways and helps existing ones become more interconnected. Think of your brain network like your favorite social network. As you add more friends and follow more people, you not only learn more about them, you also learn more about their friends and connections and so on.

It’s clear that all of us need to increase exercise for brain health, but why go outside and move? This fascinating area is called the neuroscience of nature; the natural blue and green colors and the calming sounds of nature trigger deep roots in the brain that were planted thousands of years ago when humans spent all their lives “outside.”  It’s like the brain pathways remember, “This is how I grew up. Welcome back. I feel good!”

-Dr. Bill

Additional Resources:

“Run, Jump, Learn! How Exercise Can Transform Our Schools: John J. Ratey, MD at TEDxManhattanBeach.” YouTube, TEDx Talks, 18 Nov. 2012, youtu.be/hBSVZdTQmDs.

Selhub, Eva M., and Alan C. Logan. Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness, and Vitality. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2014. Print.