You may have heard of the mind body connection before, but what does it actually mean? More importantly, what does it mean for you?
The mind body connection is a theory that suggests there is a relationship between our physical body and our consciousness, or brain. According to this theory, the things we think can influence our bodies and the activities we engage with can change the way our minds think. There’s some evidence that depression and chronic pain are tightly interrelated, with many patients suffering from both conditions even though the mechanisms that cause them are generally different.
When it comes to the mind body connection, however, one of the greatest links is exercise.
Spark, a book we reviewed earlier, discusses this concept in more detail, with attention paid to the various mental conditions that may be treated with exercise programs. Its author discusses how properly applied exercise programs may help treat conditions like depression, anxiety, and ADHD. But how does that actually happen?
Researchers are just beginning to uncover the reasons why exercise may improve our thinking and learning skills. Some scientists claim that exercise gets more blood to the brain, which is good for the brain in general. Other scientists are looking at the study of neurogenesis for more clues.
We are just now starting to understand neurogenesis, or new brain cell development. Until fairly recently, many researchers assumed that we didn’t produce any brain cells after birth. Instead, scientists are beginning to find that neurons (brain cells) are continuously formed, even through old age. More importantly, our environment and the choices we make can have a huge impact on how many new cells grow. Exercise, in particular, increases the micro blood vessels in the brain that are associated with the growth of new cells.
Exercise also pumps more oxygen into the body which can then be used by the brain. It also creates endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that are also associated with higher rates of memory retention and awareness.
When you think of it this way, every mile you walk or lap you swim is actually helping you perform better at work or at school.
Any type of exercise holds the possibility of improving your mind body connection. Walking and swimming are great low-impact exercises to start with, but researchers suggest that highly complex activities may provide an even greater brain boost. Activities like martial arts, soccer, or tennis all rely on memorized movements, highly complex rules, and quick thinking. Lower impact activities like yoga or tai chi may also be good options for incorporating more mental awareness into your exercise routine.
What are your thoughts on the mind body connection? Do you feel smarter when you work out more regularly?
Image by dierk schaefer via Flickr