New Year’s Resolutions For Better Brain Health – Part 3

Exercise. You knew it was going to be on this list, it’s on every resolution list. We know that exercise has positive effects on the brain and has been proven an effective antidepressant. Movement and exercise increase breathing and heart rate so more blood flows to the brain, enhancing energy production and the removal of toxins. 25% of the oxygen, blood and glucose from each heartbeat goes directly to your brain! That’s more than any other organ in your body and obviously indicates the importance of keeping your heart beating at an optimum. Exercise improves higher mental processes of memory and “executive functions” that involve planning, organization, and the ability to multitask.

As you exercise your muscles contract, that contraction releases a protein (IGF-1) into your blood stream. When this protein reaches the brain “good” chemicals are produced including brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) which support and protect the synapses or neuron connectors. Regular exercise increases levels of BDNF. BDNF stimulates neurons (brain cells) to branch and connect in new ways. New junctions between neurons are the basis of learning. Strenuous exercise specifically has been found to provide brain-boosting effects in the hippocampus, a region of the brain linked to learning and memory. If you’re having trouble figuring out a problem, feeling down in the dumps, suffering from writer’s block, or just not up to whatever the current mental challenge might be, Exercise! Studies have shown higher levels of thought clarifying and mood enhancing neurotransmitters present in the brain within an hour of exercising. Most experts agree that exercising for 30 minutes or more at a time is most beneficial to both body and brain.

Get physical with your kids. A survey taken in the late 1980s by the National Association of Elementary School Principals found that 96% of surveyed school systems had at least 1 recess period. Another survey a decade later found that only 70% of elementary schools allowed students a recess period. Many school districts responded to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 by reducing time allowed for recess, the creative arts, and even physical education in an effort to spend more time on reading and mathematics. This change may have implications on children’s ability to store new information, because children’s cognitive capacity is enhanced by a change in activity.

Further, some children need proprioceptic (sensory) or vestibular (movement) input to absorb and process information properly. A change in academic instruction or class topic does not offer the needed change in cognitive effort and certainly does not offer a physical release. Even a formal structured physical education class may not offer the same benefit as free-play recess. Expecting children to sit quietly at their desks and learn what it being taught is unacceptable. Numerous studies have shown that children pay better attention in the classroom after they have returned from recess. Reduced time for physical activity may be contributing to the effect of behavior on academic difficulties because as schools promote more sedentary styles of learning, classrooms become a more difficult environment for sensory or vestibular learners to navigate successfully.

Lucy Gross-Barlow: As a Speech/Language Pathologist of over 26 years and having practiced in a wide variety of therapeutic settings, Lucy brings to her clients a diversity of patient care knowledge. For the past 12 years, she has specialized her practice in the area of processing disorders and remediation of learning impairments, and she has a passion in seeing her clients succeed in their communicative and learning skills. Lucy now desires to extend the knowledge she has gained in processing and learning remediation to as many children as possible to enable them to reach their full learning and communicative potential in life.