Fit Body & Fit Brain?

Getting in shape and being fit most likely is cosmetic by today’s standards and we fail to see the connections that being healthy has on the rest of the body.   In our quest to become, fit, slim, and attractive we disregard the notions of health to achieve the "look".  What is the point of "looking good" if you don’t feel good or your body doesn’t have more performance.  Achieving health and fitness is more than just "looking good".

Of all the components of the human body, the most important is the brain and its functions.  You can’t survive without it and you can’t thrive without optimum performance from it.  Your brain is what operates your life systems.  It is the computer for your body.  When your computer is not functioning optimally, you can assume that the things that it is operating aren’t running optimally as well.

We know that if we exercise and eat the right nutrients our body is tuned and can handle physical activity with ease.  We are in a "fit" state.  What about our brain?  How do we exercise and nourish our brain to make it fit?  Can we be smarter if our brain is fit?

The answer is absolutely yes.  Research definitely suggests that if people exercise regularly and consume the correct nutrients they have better memory, more focus, better problem solving capabilities, and reductions in brain aging diseases.  IQ scores are higher for those that are healthy and fit.  Social and psychological disorders are lower in populations that are healthy and fit.  People that are wealthy tend to exercise more often and have a better diet.  Rich people are more likely to be smarter, more educated, and in shape.  Poor socioeconomic populations are more likely to have the opposite traits.  Fit body does equal a fit brain it seems.

One way to promote brain fitness is to exercise your body regularly. It increases the delivery of oxygen, nutrients, and by products of brain metabolism by increasing blood circulation.  Physical exercise increases factors that promote brain cell survival and growth.  Work out your body and the brain gets a tune up too!

A new study found that individuals consistently scored higher on intellectual tests after embarking on a running program.  Dr. Kisou Kubota of Nihon Fukushi University in Handa, Japan has been studying exercise and brain function and said  “the improvements, however, went down when the joggers stopped their training, which suggests that ongoing exercise is required to maintain the benefit,”.  Seniors who embarked on a 4-month exercise program showed significant improvement in memory, mental skills, and other cognitive functions in another study done by Duke University, North Carolina. Other studies have shown that regular workouts can help fight depression, social and emotional stress as well.

In the lab, and in the real world, exercise creates a better environment for a higher functioning brain.  Smart people exercise and exercising makes you smarter. 

The brain can also benefit from optimum nutrition.  We all know that our bodies are healthier and function with more energy when our diet is more nutritious.  Does our brain get the same benefit?  You bet it does.  Our brain uses a lot of energy converted from glucose to power its electrochemical reactions.  Brain metabolism can operate at higher levels when the required nutrients are present.  Higher brain metabolism equals sharper and quicker cognitive functions.

Your brain is working all the time and it needs recovery materials just like your muscles do.  Your muscles need protein to rebuild themselves after working out.  They also need glucose and fats to replenish energy that was consumed from the work out.  Your brain needs nutrients like phosphatidylserine (PS) and essential fats (omega 3’s )   for nerve cell membranes for repair and regeneration.  The brain also requires nutritional components for neurotransmitters so your brain can communicate with itself and the rest of the body.  If all the nutrients that make up nerve transmissions are depleted your brain will actually breakdown neural tissue to make neurotransmitters.  When you use your brain, you literally use it up and it needs replenished.  Talk about burning up your brain!    Fatigue is also the important consideration of the brain and the fact that glucose is essentially the only fuel source for the brain, malnutrition can definitely diminish the brains capacity. Central nervous system fatigue (CNS fatigue) can include lack of motivation, poor mood state, cognitive impairments, abnormally high perceived exertion and force sensation, and impaired neuromuscular coordination and balance.  How are you supposed to exercise your body when your brain is tired?  It’s a lot tougher to get motivated when your head isn’t right, and it takes motivation to exercise.

There are also studies demonstrating the effectiveness of mental exercises to sharpen the fitness level of the brain.  Board games, card games, chess, crossword puzzles, reading, stimulating conversations, travel, are all mental training activities that give the brain a workout.  Just like training the heart, blood, and lungs with aerobic exercise to training the muscles and skeletal systems with resistance, the brain gets fit from work.

Another thing that will boost performance of the brain is supplements.  Vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (plant extracts), amino acids, and other nutritional components can be added to the daily diet which will really assist the brain.  Supplements can aid in protection from cerebral diseases associated with mental decline and can even help restore mental capacities.  If you are not taking supplements now, you better start if you want to be and stay smart.

Sports psychologists, trainers, coaches, and athletes know that mental preparation is a major aspect of their performance.  Mental preparation starts with improving the biological state of the brain.  Having a mental edge in competition has always been a key to winning.  Even the ancient Greeks and Romans knew that optimal performance required good nutrition and training for the mind and the body.  Science is now exploring the role of brain capabilities and its ability too become sharper and fit.

The good news is this.  It’s never too late to start an exercise/nutritional program. Not only will you get in shape, but you can get smarter too.  By practicing good nutritional habits and exercising regularly your ability to become successful are dramatically increased.  Hard work, preparation, and resources are all that’s needed to become smarter and fitter.  The lab studies prove it, the research is fact.  Your brain is part of the equation when it comes to getting fit and healthy.  Exercise smarter.

Frank can be contacted personally at: 330.904.9562
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These resources are for the purpose of personal trainer growth and development through Continuing Education which advances the knowledge of fitness professionals. This article is written for NFPT Certified Personal Trainers to receive Continuing Education Credit (CEC). Please contact NFPT at 800.729.6378 or [email protected] with questions or for more information.