Voyager Guest Blog: Exercise for your Brain

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a woman stretching after exercise

This weeks blog comes from Phillipa, a chartered physiotherapist and exercise and movement specialist.

COVID 19 has wreaked havoc in our lives for almost 12 months now and the likelihood is that we are experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety as a result. Yaribeygi et al (2017) reviewed the major effects of stress on the primary physiological systems of the body and concluded that ‘’many disorders originate from stress’’, particularly if it is severe or  prolonged.

Chronic stress and the brain

Chronic stress occurs if we are exposed to stressful events or situations repeatedly or over a prolonged period of time. In otherwise healthy individuals chronic stress can lead to atrophy in areas of the brain associated with memory, and regulation of emotions. Ansell et al 2013. These structural changes go some way to explain the changes in our cognition (thinking) and memory.

But it doesn’t end there: the cardiovascular system, immune system, gastrointestinal system and the endocrine systems are all adversely affected. So, management of prolonged and repeated exposure to stress is an important consideration for our future health.  

So what can we do? As a Physiotherapist, Pilates and Yoga teacher I favour practical lifestyle management strategies which include daily exercise, healthy nutrition, mindfulness and meditation

Exercise and the brain?

Simply put physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain and thus keeps the ‘plumbing’ open. Even just standing up increases blood flow to the brain; this blood brings nutrients and hence promotes brain health. Movement is essential to human survival and exercise actually changes the brain biochemistry to be more receptive to joy i.e.it increases sensitivity of dopamine, endocannabinoid and endorphin receptors.

Resistance training is particularly beneficial for the brain as we find it increases the circulating levels of a protein called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Low circulating levels of BDF have been correlated to neuronal loss in older persons and increased levels of this protein promotes the survival of nerve cells in the brain (neurons) by playing a role in the growth, and maintenance of neurons. Interestingly to sustain the training-induced increases of BDNF in older persons Louis Nuvagah Forti et al found that continuous exercise adherence seems to be required.

Breathing provides information for the brain and vice versa, if we pay attention we notice that strong emotions, fear, anxiety and stress, can alter our breathing patterns. By taking just one deep breath we can shift the electrical activity of the brain towards the Alpha state and thus reduce anxiety levels.

Benefits of Exercise

It should come as no surprise by now that exercise helps us to manage tension and stress. It provides a natural energy boost, promotes improved sleep, gives us a sense of achievement and ‘who knew’ exercise can be fun! Even gathering virtually for Pilates and Yoga online is an opportunity to connect with other people and that’s important for our mental health too. 

My movement prescription for myself includes daily Pilates or Yoga and walking outdoors.  Pilates is a very mindful activity where we connect with the body whilst moving with precision and control. My bone Healthy Pilates sessions incorporate body weight resistance exercises and my personal favourite rubber band resistance.

a woman doing exercise

Yoga is brilliant for stress reduction; aside from the feelings of wellbeing from moving and mobilising your body, the focus on breathing can help to switch on the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which as we now know promotes relaxation reducing stress.

How can we make daily exercise a part of your life 

  • Find ways to make it so that it’s not a chore.
  • Move in a way that gives you joy, it’s a very personal thing. 
  • Think of something you love such as wildlife then think of an exercise that allows you to experience more wildlife such as taking walks in nature.
  • Strengthen a relationship by joining a friend or family member to do something you both enjoy.
  • Make movement an integral part of your life; run errands by cycling or walking. 

Precizion Ltd 

Move More, Feel Better, Live Longer!

Meet Phillipa Your Personal Movement Specialist

I am a Chartered Physiotherapist with a wealth of experience treating musculoskeletal conditions; disorders affecting bones, joints and muscles. I have spent my career developing and refining my knowledge and skills and I am passionate about movement as medicine. I work to help people to achieve their goals whether it is to manage pain, improve overall performance or participate in activities they enjoy.

My philosophy in my own life is that prevention is better than cure and I believe that undertaking a regular programme of appropriate exercise is the key to a fitter, healthier future. To that end I have undertaken additional training and I am a certified Pilates teacher and 200 hours qualified Hatha Yoga instructor. Join me for your first class free. 

I offer online Physiotherapy advice, private movement coaching, group exercise classes, courses and workshops and I provide ongoing support to guide you on your journey to optimal health.

The Precizion ‘Moving through Menopause’ Podcast now in its second season, is my contribution to the conversation around menopause with insights, information and a few giggles.

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Email: hi@precizion.co.uk

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