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Posts Tagged ‘brain health’

I’m a huge supporter of Daniel Leiberman’s theory that humans look and move the way we do because of endurance running.  As we evolved, there was a point when we began benefitting from running and therefore adapted traits that helped us run more efficiently, which led to us to become very efficient endurance runners.  Many new studies have been coming out that give more detail as to why humans need to be moving to be healthy.  Believe it or not, simply standing is healthier than sitting.  Standing work stations are becoming more popular for people who are stuck at computers all day.  Even though standing doesn’t raise your heart rate there are significant health benefits.  The most profound benefit of standing during the work day is how the production of the enzyme Lipoprotein Lipase, which is minimal when we sit and much higher when we stand, affects us metabolically.  Standing and increasing production of this enzyme has a very positive effect on our physical health.  Standing also prevents muscles and tendons from tightening up, specifically hamstrings and hip flexors, which directly affects runners.

Now, looking beyond the physical benefits, new research is indicating that physical activity may help maintain brain health- more than simply helping us clear our mind after a long, stressful day.  The New York Times article- Exercise and the Ever Smarter Human Brain is based on research that goes a little more in depth about the theory of why and how exercise helps our brains.  Researchers theorize that physical activity helped to mold the structure of our brains over millions of years.  If that’s the case, then it’s likely that physical activity remains essential to brain health today.  Similarly, we evolved as social creatures and we still need social interaction to be well balanced.  I use this example because the social aspect is something that we can easily perceive and are more attuned to.  We have the desire to spend time with others, to talk to people, to solve problems or to feel loved and accepted.  Many people enjoy running with another person or group of people.  I think this is a deeply rooted instinct that comes from when we ran and worked together for a successful hunt.  See my post on persistence hunting to see how people ran and work together to chase down their prey.

Researchers have found evidence that “regular exercise, even walking, leads to more robust mental abilities.”  This does not mean that every couch potato who starts running will become a genius.  In stark contrast, Stephen Hawking has been wheelchair bound and unable to feed himself since the mid 70’s, yet is one of the most intelligent people in the world.  We all fall somewhere under the bell curve and everyone has their potential.  The bottom line is that physical activity can help with decision making and keep our memory sharp, helping each individual achieve their full cognitive potential.

Unfortunately, the brain experiences a similar use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon that skeletal muscle does.  Other research has shown that animals who were showing cognitive improvement from exercise demonstrated signs of decrease after just one week of inactivity. Within three weeks of inactivity, the exercise group had results very similar to the group that had never exercised.

So if someone you know has been excessively inactive, try to get them out walking either during lunch or after work.  Suggest an up/down work station for their desk.  Any light activity will help them both physically and mentally and may be the catalyst for an overall healthier lifestyle.

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