In recent years,
research continues to find a strong connection between mobility and decline in brain health. It’s been long
established that exercise and movement help promote mental health and fight
symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD.
But we continue to
learn that the benefits of movement extend beyond the management of mental
health conditions and into the realm of prevention and brain optimization.
For example, research on dementia risk factors consistently finds
that loss of strength, walking speed, and balance are strong predictors of a
future decline in brain health.
Given all of this information, it’s impossible to deny that our body and mind work together.The good news is that we can use this mounting evidence to our advantage.
Your Movement Habits as a Window to Your Brain Health
provides a window to your brain. As a physical therapist, I can watch an
individual’s movement patterns to determine where they might be having areas of
brain decline. For example, difficulty keeping balance with walking can
indicate difficulty with planning complex tasks or visuospatial reasoning.
Not only can your movement habits paint a picture of what might be going on with your brain health, but you can also use movement as a tool to optimize your brain.
The great news is
that you don’t have to become a marathon runner or powerlifter to reap the
brain-health benefits. Research has found that a formal exercise practice is not necessary, it’s just about
getting up and moving often.
Adopting a Movement-Based Lifestyle to Promote Brain Health
There are ways of
moving that can have a bigger impact in promoting brain health than others. One
of the most common mistakes I see people make is adopting the habit of mindless
movement or exercise.
Jumping on a
treadmill in front of a TV provides a greater benefit than sitting on the
couch, but also misses a huge opportunity to optimize brain health along with
As biomechanist Katy Bowman would argue, the solution isn’t to add more formal “exercise” to your day but instead to focus on adopting a movement-based lifestyle. It doesn’t help to focus on exercise for 30 minutes a day only to be sedentary during your non-exercise time.
“To increase the
benefits of physical activity, strive to put more movement back into your life.
Choose to walk instead of drive, seek out active chores, and learn to move more
during your non-exercise time.” –Katy Bowman
Adopting the habit of mindful movement
throughout your day will help you get more bang for your movement buck. It
starts with learning how to observe yourself.
Understand the ways in which you move,
and even more importantly, how you aren’t moving. Make your movement a mindful practice
for maximum benefits.
The Benefits of Movement on Brain Health
People who move
more throughout their day report a higher sense of well-being. They have more
energy, sleep better, have better memory, and report more positive feelings
about their lives.
Studies have found
that even just having a higher perception and more positive feelings associated
with health can make you less likely to develop chronic disease.
So, don’t wait to
get started living a movement-based lifestyle to optimize your brain health.
This type of living is accessible to anyone.
Here are 3 ways
movement can help you optimize your brain.
Increased Circulation to the Brain
Moving more gets
the blood flowing throughout your body, which benefits all of your organs but
is most impactful for your brain.
circulation can cause “brain fog” and, in the most extreme cases, the death of
brain cells. It’s likely you’ve experienced brain fog and a lack of clarity at
some point. This feeling is a good indication to get yourself up and moving.
brain health by improving circulation throughout the brain. Having better
circulation means better delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the brain, which
are critical for its function. The more you disperse your movement throughout
the day, the more often you can promote circulation to your brain.
Formation of New Neural Pathways and Strengthening Existing Ones
For every new movement you try, you form new neural circuitry. It’s similar to learning to play a musical instrument or adopting a new language. You can use the connections from your muscles to your nervous system to help stimulate various parts of the brain.
The less variety
you have with your movement, the less stimulation your brain is getting. Adding
variety to your movement can be as simple as going for a walk in a different
ways of getting on and off the floor. Or trying different arm positions during
a squat. Every little variation you add stimulates your brain in a different
movement have also been shown to help increase brain volume through the
formation of new neural circuitry. This happens through a combination of
hormone stimulation and increased blood flow to the brain.
This boost in
volume has been noted in areas of the brain that help with memory, reasoning,
Promoting Specific Hormones to Enhance Brain Health
is so powerful that it’s been demonstrated to be more effective than
anti-depressants in cases of depression.
Of course, there is
a time and a place where medication is the right choice, but physical activity
can both enhance the activity of medication and provide a sustainable strategy
for managing and preventing mental health conditions.
helps release hormones like endorphins and serotonin, which help lift your
mood. It also helps promote dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain
which helps with attention and focus.
An increase in
these hormones helps reduce levels of cortisol, or stress hormones, in the
body. Lower levels of cortisol have been linked with a lower risk of chronic
The more you get yourself moving, the more you can reap these benefits.
Adopting a movement-based lifestyle is one of the most powerful ways to optimize your brain health and set yourself up for a healthy future. Keep it simple. Just focus on moving and moving often.
How often do you
move mindfully? How often do you perform mindless exercise? Which chores can
you use to enhance your activity level throughout the day? Please share with