Thinking is a physical act. The organ we use for thinking is the Brain, which is considered the most important organ of the body; it controls and coordinates actions and reactions, allows us to think and feel and every other activity pertaining to the human person.The brain benefits of exercise goes beyond disease prevention; apart from cutting down risks from Memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, regular exercising leads to greater brain volume in areas of the brain associated with reasoning and executive function.
The brain is a complex and energetic organ which tells your body how to function using a system of nerves. It contains billions of nerve cells or neurons and it coordinates thought, emotion,behaviour, movement and sensation.
Exercising makes the heart beat faster, thereby increasing the level of oxygen in the blood and which flows to the brain. The brain needs a continuous supply of oxygen and glucose from the blood for the maintenance of brain function. The brain depends on glucose as it’s main source of energy. The brain is about 2% of the body weight but consumes about 20% of the glucose- energy, making it the main consumer of glucose. The brain uses about 25% of your oxygen intake, so there is need for sufficient supply of oxygen.
In a study carried out by Ozioma Okonkwo , Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Aerobic capacity boosts brain structure , function and cognition.Physical activity also increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor ( BDNF), which is known to repair and protect brain cells from degeneration, as well as help grow new brain cells and neurons, says Okonkwo.
THE MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF EXERCISE
Exercise is a powerful depression fighter, promoting all kinds of changes in the brain,including neural growth,and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well being. It releases Endorphins, which are powerful chemicals in your brain that energise the spirits and make you feel good. Exercise relieves tension and stress in the body, relaxes the muscles boosts physical and mental energy and enhance well being through the release of endorphins.Since the body and mind are closely linked, when the body feels better, so too will your mind.
Exercising is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of Attention- Deficit / Hyperactive Disorder(ADHD) and improve concentration,motivation,memory and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine,nor-epinephrine and serotonin levels- all of which affect focus and attention positively, much in the same way as the ADHD medications work.
Exercise can provide sharper memory and thinking- the same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for the tasks at hand. Exercise can stimulate the growth of new brain cells and prevent age- related decline, provide better sleep, increase energy; when faced with mental or emotional challenge in life, exercise can help you build resilience and cope in a healthy way, instead of resorting to drugs ,alcohol or other negative behaviours that only make your symptoms worse. Regular exercise can also boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress.
It is worthwhile to give topmost priority to exercising regularly, because of the tremendous benefits towards helping one to acquire excellent inherent qualities of mind and character.
There is an adage that says “Use it or lose it” This applies not only to our physical health but also to our cognitive health. Exercise sharpens cognitive skills. Physical activity increases the volume of the brain’s hippocampus, that part of the brain which is known for it’s involvement in creating new memories and remembering facts and events –in other words, it improves learning and memory. Physical activity can thus strengthen brain function and memory.
Approaches to brain health also include a well-balanced diet, low in fat, low in cholesterol and high in anti-oxidants. In addition to good nutrition, regular exercise can never be over-emphasised. According to Dr. Bender, MD, Section Chief of the Geriatric and Memory Centre at Broadlawns Medical centre in Des Moines Iowa, USA, regular exercise can promote vascular health and protect brain tissue. According to him, ‘The brain wants to learn new things’. He noted that some researchers believe that people are more vulnerable to dementia when they pay less attention to the things around them- that when the brain is passive, it has a tendency to atrophy. Sedentary and relatively passive activities such as sitting in front of a TV for hours a day,can be detrimental to brain health over time.
Since the brain is involved in everything we do, brain exercises should be given top priority especially as one gets older. Doing certain brain exercises to help boost memory, concentration and focus can make daily tasks quicker and easier to do and will keep the brain sharp as one gets older.
• Jigsaw puzzle-Research shows that doing Jigsaw puzzles recruits multiple cognitive abilities; when you look at jigsaw puzzles, you have to look at the different pieces and figure out where they fit within the larger picture, which can be a great way to challenge and exercise the brain.
• Game of Cards-Researchers who conducted a study in 2015 on mentally stimulating activities for adults, say a quick card game can led to a greater brain volume in several regions of the brain; that a game of cards can improve memory and thinking skills.
• Building of your vocabulary-Research shows that many more regions of the brain are involved in vocabulary tasks, particularly in areas that are important for visual and auditory processing. This cognitive boosting activity can be carried out viz- Keeping a notebook when reading, writing down one unfamiliar word and looking up the definition and trying using that word five times the next day.
• Dancing-The Centres for Disease Prevention and Control notes that learning new dance moves can increase your brain’s processing speed and memory.
• Use All your Senses.-a 2015 Research report suggests that using all your senses. Making the necessary efforts at recollection regarding the use of the senses, can be very useful brain exercises .To give your senses and your brain a workout, try doing activities that simultaneously engage all five of your senses: You could try baking a batch of cookies or visiting a new restaurant while you focus on smelling, touching, seeing and hearing all at the same time.
• Learn a new skill–Apart from being fun learning a new skill, it may also help strengthen the connections in the brain. Research carried out in 2014 showed that learning a new skill can help improve memory function in older adults.
• Teach a new skill to someone else-One of the best ways to expanding your learning is to teach a skill to another person.
• Listen to or play music-An easy way to increasing your creative brain power may lie in turning on some music: The brain is capable of learning new skills at any point in your life, so it can be very beneficial to learn to play music, if you’ve always wanted to. You’re never too old to to start playing an instrument like the piano, guitar, or even the drums!
• Take a new route and try new ways I doing things–Be willing to trying new ways to doing the same things in your daily tasks. You can choose a different route, using public transport instead of driving etc — the brain will benefit tremendously from these simple changes and will become easy to change your thinking.
• Meditation–Daily meditation can increase the brain’s ability to process information and fine- tune the memory, apart from calming the body and reducing stress and anxiety.
• Learning a new language –A 2012 research review has overwhelmingly proven the many cognitive benefits of being able to speak more than one language. According to numerous studies, bilingualism can contribute to better memory,improved visual -spatial skills and higher levels of creativity. Being fluent in more than language can also help you switch more easily between different tasks and delay the onset of age-related mental decline.
• The GOOD NEWS is that it is never too late to learn a new language or reaping the benefits of learning a new language, which boosts the memory and improve other mental functions.
• Focus on another person–when interacting with someone, take note of four things about them– e.g. the colour of the shirt/ dress, whether or not they are wearing glasses, whether they have a hat on and if so, what kind? Colour of hair? etc. Once you decide on four things, make a mental note , come back to it later during the day and write down what you remember about those four details.
Thinking is the process of considering or reasoning about something or using thought or rational judgement; thought (or thinking), encompasses a flow of ideas and associations that can lead to logical conclusions. On the other hand, Thinking can also be defined as the action of using one’s mind to produce thoughts, or the ultimate cognitive activity, consciously using our brains to make sense of the world around us and decide how to respond to it.
Self-talk is an outcome of thinking patterns. Self-talk is the running dialogue you have with yourself which can be purposeful or random, internal or external. Negative self- talk is UNHEALTHY and usually leads to poor performance, while positive self-talk is HEALTHY and often results in good performance .
Negative self- talk is any inner dialogue that may be limiting your ability to believe in yourself and your own abilities or any thought that diminishes your ability to make positive changes in your life or your confidence in yourself to do so. Negative self- talk can not only be stressful, but can really stunt your success. Rumination and self- blame over negative events have been linked to an increased risk of mental health problems. Focusing on negative thoughts may lead to decreased motivational well as greater feelings of helplessness and has even been linked to depression; there is thus a need to urgently rectify this state. Consequences of negative self-talk can include Limited thinking, Perfectionism, Lowered ability to see opportunities, Insecurity in relationships , Stress, Low self-esteem etc. Negative self- talk can be minimised and over come through acknowledging the problem and using different strategies, including POSITIVE THINKING.
You can learn to turn negative thinking into positive thinking. Positive self -self talk leads to positive thinking. “Is your glass half-empty or half-full?”–this is an age-old question about positive thinking which may reflect your outlook on life, your attitude towards yourself and whether you are optimistic or pessimistic— and may even affect your health. Negative thinking adversely affects the body, mind and other people around you.
The positive thinking that usually comes with optimism is a key part of effective stress management, which is associated with many health benefits. If you tend to be pessimistic, do not despair–the GOOD NEWS is that you can learn POSITIVE THINKING SKILLS.
To focus on positive thinking, there are different strategies that may work better for different people; here are some ways to think and behave in a more positive way-
• Identify areas to change-Identify areas that you think negatively about and start little by little by focusing on one area of to approach in a more positive way.
• Check yourself-Periodically during the day, check and evaluate what you’re thinking about ; if you find that the thought are mainly negative,try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.
• Be open to humour-Smile and laugh more often, especially through difficult times.
• Praying has a very beneficial effect; remembering that you are a creature in presence of the Creator, gives you a sense of security and responsibility that will help to neutralise any negative self talk ; This will help you to generate and maintain a flow of positive communication between the creature and the Creator.
• Acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses is useful, so that you keep striving to serve ever more judiciously with the strengths and constantly make efforts to improve in the area of weaknesses.
The brain helps us to think and we utilise our brain when we think; there is an adage that says “Train your brain”–so there is need to pay attention to PRACTICE, DRILL, DISCIPLINE which are all connected with LEARNING and Learning is carried out by the brain.
The brain or mind has to be trained and disciplined to engage in positive thinking so as to overcome the negative aspects associated with the frailty of human nature.
Focusing on your brain health is one of the best things you can do to improve your concentration,focus, memory and mental agility, no matter what age you are.
By incorporating brain exercises into your everyday life, you’ll get to challenge your mind, sharpen your cognitive skills and possibly learn something new and enriching long the way too.
Since the brain needs a steady amount of glucose and oxygen to function properly it is worthwhile finding ways to increase oxygen levels like keeping the air at home fresh and clean by adding plants to naturally increase oxygen, use of air purifiers such as salt lamps, peace lilies and bamboo charcoal. Having plants at home can reduce carbon dioxide levels while increasing oxygen levels. Sufficient intake of water( proper hydration) and nutrition can help increase oxygen levels –for instance, eating anti-oxidants helps the body maintain the proper amount of blood oxygen. Try taking lots of fruits and vegetables which contain anti- oxidants , because exhaust fumes, motor engines,charcoal or wood/ kerosene smoke etc can produce carbon monoxide, which are neutralised by the anti- oxidants.
Oxygen levels and brain function go hand -in-hand.When your brain has enough oxygen, your body functions better and you’ll feel better. As your blood oxygen levels improve, you might notice improved cognitive function, better balance, and an overall improvement to your health.
Caroline Ademiluyi is a Lagos based Pharmacist