Sports Is “Medicine” at Brain Centers NWWritten By: David Burns
Did you know that sports can improve health? You know that it improves cardiovascular function and helps build muscle. But do you know that it helps develop your brain? Training the body is “brain training”.
You of course know that brain controls the body. But are you aware that a brain’s health is dependent on all the input it receives? That is, it is a product of all its’ receptor integration.
Are you aware that the greatest amount of input the brain receives, which fuels it, comes from the receptors (nerve endings) found in the muscles and joints of our bodies? As a matter of fact the only constant information that your brain receives comes from the nerve endings in muscles and joints as a consequence of gravity.
Our brain’s general, global activation, via the reticular activating system, is driven by the information that comes from the muscles and joints of our body and from the input received by the cerebellum. The cerebellum is a wrinkly little mass that sits under the back of the brain. The cerebellum is usually thought of as purely involved in balance. This “brain muscle” does far more than keep you upright.
The cerebellum takes in a lot of information from muscles, joints and from the balance organs of the inner ear and then fires to this reticular activating system. The global activation of brain in turn allows for more refined specific execution of goal directed behavior. That is to say that, the frequency of brain activation is a consequence of all that the body feeds it. When there is lots of appropriate, balanced information this is usually great for brain. When there is decreased, imbalanced or poor information this is bad for brain. To clarify, while exercise is without a doubt great for brain; exercise that considers the individual brain’s strengths and weaknesses is that much better.
Why after sitting all day long in school or in a cubicle at work do you wake up with a little exercise? Why the benefit of exercise on depression or exercise for Alzheimer prevention? Moving, jumping, balancing, tracking a ball drives our cerebellum and our cerebellum drives areas within our brainstem that send signals up to our brain that are associated with reward, pleasure, emotion (i.e. ventral tegmental pathway). Exercise doesn’t just do “a body good” but affects our cognitive abilities, memory and mood.
This relationship or dependency of brain on body even affects our ability to learn. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant points out this relationship and what the perfect learning environment looks like in Brain Rules. I know personally that some of my most creative moments happen when I’m out jogging. Leaning is a complex process and when exercise is combined with coaching that capitalizes on all the roads to brain activation learning is maximized, brain is optimized.
Now the benefit of exercise and sports is not just when you are actually exercising. Exercise increases tone of muscle. The amount of tone directly relates to the amount of information that fires up into brain. Greater tone results in greater receptor activation for the same amount of change in joint angulation. Now, brain itself sets tone of body bringing things full circle. Body affect brain and brain affects body. Hence, programs at Brain Centers NW include training of both brain and body.
You don’t have to be a Greek God to have this benefit but you do have to get up off the coach. Every child should be actively participating in daily exercise in some way shape or form not just because it is good for their heart but because it is good for that which governs every aspect of their physical being, their BRAIN.