Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Those who are regular Fun and Fit followers know that Alexandra and I never saw a mic we didn’t like. Still, the prospect of recapping 10 points off the top of my head in front of 125 fellow fitness pros was a bit daunting. Darn that brilliant and beckoning presenter, Terry Eckmann, PhD, a Minot University Professor, who was presenting this session and another one I attended, Healthy Aging Survival Kit.
Motivated by wanting to bring you the best info on what movement can do for your cognitive skills, I focused. And stroked my notes lovingly. Then jumped up energetically recognizing that activity would increase my recall and memory! How convenient!
I took a deep breath and launched into Fun Fit Facts about our brains and learning. Take a “look see” at this list so you can gain all the benefits of a better brain immediately and throughout the rest of your life:
1. If we write something down we anchor that learning. (Works great now, but not as I walked to the front of the room).
2. Our brain weighs about 3-4 pounds, consumes 20% of the body’s energy, uses one-fifth of the body’s oxygen, and comprises around 2% of body weight. (two down; eight to go and I already wished I’d brought my notes).
4. Exercise can literally change the anatomy and physiology of our brain. In 30 minutes we can gain brain matter (who wants more dendrites and ganglia? I do, I do!), have better cognitive skills, improve our memory, increase alertness, and learn better.
5. Every decade after 30 years old we lose 10 percent of our ability to breathe unless we regularly exercise cardiovascularly (If you don’t want to huff and puff your way indecorously through midlife and beyond, then keep up the aerobic training which is also a great brain fitness program!)
6. Our brain loses 1-2 percent of volume after 30 years old unless we move and continue to learn. (Yes, active baby boomers have larger brains on average compared to sedentary ones. Yet another reason to get moving).
7. Good posture sends a message to our brain that we are confident, in control of our lives, and possess self-mastery. (I hope you like this tidbit as it’s so achievable!)
8. 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity:
(Got a test, presentation, meeting or high stress function coming up? Take a brisk walk or jog ahead of time. You’ll perform better. And you’ll be sweaty, but it’s a healthy price to pay for success).
9. When we exercise our:
10. To strengthen our corpus callosum, perform cross lateral movement — moves that cross the midline of the body, such as right elbow to left knee.
11. We best remember information and events that are attached to either a story or an emotional response. (Hmmm, nothing about lists and numbers enhancing memory, so I hope you wonder how this tale ends so you remember it!)
For those who are active, you probably noticed more than 10 Fun Fit Facts. You’re welcome! But was I able to conjure up these points in 3 minutes with no prep? Or did the audience have to help me out?
Neither one (insert huge exhale here). As I ticked off item # 8, Dr Eckmann said she was convinced I was award-worthy and hit the applause-o-meter as she hung the award around my neck. At least I think that’s what happened. Since sitting down to type this, I can’t quite recall….
Slide Photo is allowed courtesy of Terry Eckmann, PhD. Yup, she’s smart, fit, AND nice!
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It’s like I’m stuck in a Cheech and Chong skit – The first day on my vacation, I woke up. Then, I went downtown to look for job. Then I hung out in front of the drugstore. The second day on my summer vacation, I woke up, then I went downtown to look for a job. Then I hung out in front of the drugstore. The third day… (If you don’t get that 1972 reference, you are not a boomer). I’m not depressed or sad or weepy or pessimistic or grumpy or or or… But I’m off. Instead of feeling like I am a participant in my world, I feel like the world is happening around me.
I was thinking it might be hormones or menopause, yet nothing seems to be different. In any case, I decided last night that I’d had enough of waiting. Waiting for my usual energy or cheeriness or joie de vivre to return. Instead of waking up sort of rumbly and angsty, I decided to shake things up a bit. The relationship between exercise and moodis well-established, so I gave myself the same advice I’d give to a client – get moving!
And so I did. I got up at 0600 and got a ride to the bottom of the mountain pass near my home, then hiked up to the top. As part of a sponsored Under Armour challenge I had declared a goal of hiking up this pass, so I figured getting up super early (for me) would be an added achievement. Besides, it’s easy to spot the mood-elevating endolphins swimming around the harbor that early in the morning!!!
hahahah it’s a joke – these neurotransmitters are really called endorphins, and they are like happy pills, except they are created by your own body and no pills are involved. According to Dr. William Sears, we are our own pharmacology site.
What I learned as I walked up the hill this morning:
* the nasty black flies aren’t out in massive numbers early in the morning
* lots of cars come down the winding road at that time
* the views are amazing, especially as the sun comes over the hills
* the people driving those cars like to wave hello
* it’s as steep as I believed it to be
* it was easier than I expected
* being outside on a gorgeous day, with amazing views, good music in my ears and my body movin’ and groovin’ works perfectly as a mood-enhancer.
No wonder I don’t need any medications (my doc is always amazed, due to “my age,” which is actually kind of scary in its implications) – I have hiking in my veins, so there’s no room for artificial stimulants in them! In any case, I cheered right up and have been productive all morning. The only thing is…I’ve completed my What’s Beautiful goal. So I guess I’ll change it and go up, then back down the mountain. If that comes too easily, I’ll do it without stopping for pictures every few minutes! Pssst, that What’s Beautiful link is to my profile in case you want to follow my progress.
I have a question for all of you, especially the boomer women – do you ever get into a mood rut, where you just can’t find your mojo, or passion, or gumption, or meaning, or even your special purpose (alert: 1979 Steve Martin reference)? What did you do to get out of it? I want to copy your ideas in case I get sick of that hike.
By the way, when I’m not being a grumpus, I like to have fun. If you want to know how I define “fun,” you’ll have to read the interview at Bite Size Wellness.
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Photo credit: Dolphins ryn413.
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
So what news about boosting your brain through exercise did we glean from our brush with an intellectual celebrity?
(Ok, Dr. Ratey actually said “anti-aging,” but we are not against aging. We are for aging as actively as possible, so I reworded the phrase. Literary license, people!). Dr. Ratey stressed this heavily in his book and presentation: nothing compares to the effect of movement when it comes to living life “younger” as nothing makes our brain cells work harder than exercise.
While we may not see results right away from our workouts, we reap MENTAL benefits within moments. The super important neurotransmitter is BDNF — Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. BDNF activates learning when we perform cardio. As Dr. Ratey (aka, my BFF and dinner buddy “John”) says, “BDNF is a crucial biological link between thought, emotions, and movement. Our neurotransmitters offer ‘cerebellum training’ during and after each aerobic bout.” That clear-headed feeling we get from working out is literally a head full of enhanced brain power and activity. Dr. Ratey offered this “insta-result” fact as a way to motivate ourselves to move more.
New experiences and challenges enhance our cognitive skills (be smarter, stave off the odds of dementia, keep our memory strong, add brain matter and circuitry throughout life). Maybe we take a walk that goes left instead of right; or we change up our morning routine somehow. Perhaps we add intensity or complexity to an action we are already performing. Apparently the experiences we can create for ourselves to stay mentally strong do not have to be huge or entirely new. Even small challenges rewire our brains for the better. If you are in a workout rut, snap out of it (to quote Cher’s character in Moonstruck).
All mammals play, so the more we can bring joy and playfulness into our workouts, the better off our brains will be. At the very least, play reduces stress. Lower chronic stress levels are related to a healthier life and stronger brain. In short, make exercise fun. Does this mantra from Fun and Fit sound familiar? If your current routine A) doesn’t exist; B) is not fun; C) is ho-hum routine, then challenge yourself to try new activities until you find the ones you enjoy. Like how you can combine tips 3 and 4 here?
Those were the highlights from Dr. Ratey’s talk. If you are keen to get even more keen, read Spark, ideally right after working out… at Rancho la Puerta! That would be a really smart move!
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