PJ's Fitness Blog

A blog about a fitter you. Come find out what is on the cutting edge of fitness science and be a part of the ongoing conversation.

Train Your Body to Get Your Dream Brain!

I have been talking a lot about training the brain to get your dream body, but does it work the other way around? Scientist have found that it does indeed. It turns out that trimming down your body actually bulks up your brain! There is an inverse relationship between brain size and body size when it comes to fitness. As people get fatter, their brains gets smaller. As they get fitter, their brains get bigger – and smarter.

Regular exercise can turbocharge brainpower and improve mood, memory, and focus, while fighting depression and age-related cognitive decline. What’s more, studies show that your mental outlook can affect how you react to pain during a workout, which can influence whether you dig in or throw in the towel. By understanding how the brain responds to each phase of your workout, you can make the most of this very cool mind-body connection.

Starting a new fitness routine can be easy, but continuing long term can be another story. The momentum often starts out strong but then peters out after a few weeks for most people. Why is that? What is it about our wiring that turns it into such a hard decision? Do you press snooze in the morning or pop out of bed and exercise? Hit the gym after work, or hit happy hour? In these moments when you’re staring down your sneakers, you’re trying to rouse your left prefrontal cortex (PFC), the area of the brain where your elements of willpower reside. Regular exercisers have an advantage: Their brains can anticipate the positive perks of a sweat session. “When you have positive reinforcement, you’re much more likely to do something,” says John J. Ratey, M.D., an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

Power up: If this is where you typically derail, solicit external assistance–schedule a workout with a friend, register for a race, or join the X Gym so you have an APPOINTMENT with a trainer, rather than relying on sheer willpower reserves alone, says Ratey.

Still slacking? Use nonexercise activities and daily chores (like making your bed every morning) to get your PFC operating optimally. “You can build your willpower like you would a muscle,” says mind-body health expert David Yaden of the Community Biofeedback Clinic in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. “Your willpower becomes stronger even when you’re practicing doing little things.”

If you can get past that initial “intertia” and just get started, it gets exponentially easier. Within minutes of starting exercise (or mere seconds in the case of an X Gym workout), your brain lights up like a neon sign, says brain chemistry researcher David Glass, Ph.D., a professor in the department of biological sciences at Kent State University. First comes a rush of serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good hormones that also improve memory and learning. “It sets off your reward circuitry,” says Glass. “That’s what makes exercise rewarding and possibly addictive.”

Just like your hardworking muscles, the brain perks build with each rep or stride. As your heart rate rises, blood flow increases, and over time more capillaries develop in the brain. As your nerve cells fire, they boost the creation of proteins such as brain derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNF), which plays a role in the positive thoughts you attribute to working out) as well as compounds that promote new brain-cell formation. The result: You increase the production of neurons–literally building your brain over a period of weeks by creating new nerve cells, says Brian R. Christie, Ph.D., director of the neuroscience program at the University of Victoria in Canada.

Doing something you haven’t done before (like X Gym’s unique exercise protocols) forces both your brain and your body to work in unaccustomed ways, says Christie. “Cognitively complex tasks can have benefits for the brain, so it makes sense that combining physical and mental exercise provides the most benefits.”

As your muscles fatigue and burn, the temptation to stop grows stronger. But if you keep going–for a total of 20 minutes or more–your natural opioid system kicks into high gear, flooding your brain with painkilling chemicals like endorphins. (According to one study, these endorphins attach to the same brain regions that light up when you’re sexually aroused.) Other researchers credit a chemical called cannabinoids for the high (yep, it’s from the same family of chemicals that gives marijuana smokers their buzz). It could be that the body releases these substances to cope with the stress of exercise, says lead researcher Arne Dietrich, Ph.D., of the American University of Beirut. “If you give your body time to release these chemicals, you may feel much better during and after exercise,” he says. And not just physically: A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that exercisers scored significant mental-health perks after just 20 minutes.

The cranial perks of your sweat session are still in play long after you’ve hit the shower. Researchers in Ireland had students perform brain-taxing tests, then had half the group ride stationary bikes for 30 minutes while the others chilled out. They then repeated the test, and the students who exercised did significantly better, while the ones who lazed about showed no improvement. The likely reason: The pedalers had much higher blood levels of BDNF. Because it’s most active in the hippocampus, cortex, and basal forebrain–areas vital to learning, memory, and higher thinking–surges of the protein may contribute to why adults who exercise display sharper memory skills, higher concentration levels, more fluid thinking and reasoning, and greater problem-solving than those who stay sedentary.

The obvious conclusion here is the X Gym’s 21 minute workout is the perfect routine for your brain as well as your body!

Source (and special thanks to gifted writer Selene Yeager due to major plagiarism on my part): http://healthyliving.msn.com/health-wellness/train-your-brain