I watched an interesting TED Talk recently by a neuroscientist, Wendy Suzuki, about the effects of exercise on the brain. She started the talk by challenging her audience that if she was to tell them something they could do ‘that day’ which would instantly improve their mood and focus – would they do it? She went on to explain that this thing was also proven to have long-term benefits including reducing the chances of depression or Alzheimer’s Disease. As you have already guessed, from my introduction, she was talking about exercise.
Professor Suzuki was specifically addressing a room of adults with her inspiring story of personal experience combined with scientific research. But it occurred to me, how much more important that we enthuse our children with a passion for something that will promote sound mental health for their future lives.
Why start when it’s almost too late?
Many forty-somethings, and for some it even starts in their thirties, go through something of a mid-life-crisis, where they realise they have become tired and overweight. It is often when our bodies start to complain that we think about diet, exercise and changes in our lifestyle. Ask anyone who has been through this and they will tell you unequivocally that the beginning of the ‘getting healthy’ process is always the hardest. That is why most fail soon after starting.
Imagine if regular, healthy, brain and body enhancing exercise had been part of your entire life from an early age. How much better would your life be then (now)? We owe it to our children’s physical and mental health to encourage them to enjoy participating in exercise in ways that will engage them for the rest of their lives.
As a caveat here, just in case I’ve offended any middle-age readers, I don’t believe it is ever too late to start looking after yourself better. The fact is, it just gets harder as you get older.
Protecting children’s brains from incurable diseases
The story that Professor Suzuki shared was about her own discovery that being tied to her laboratory and research was robbing her of a social life and draining her energy. So, she decided to take an activity holiday and struggled to cope with the physicality it demanded. Inspired to get stronger for next time, and lose the 25lb she had gained, she found that both her mood and ability to focus on her work increased immediately after each time she worked out.
The observations of her accidental self-experiment led her to completely change the subject and direction of her work. She has gone on to become a leader in the field of studying the positive effects of exercise on the brain. And her goal is to be able to define the optimum levels of exercise to help increase and protect brain function, for people at different stages of their lives.
For me, the important thing is always to start good habits early and keep them up for life.
Here are some of the inspirational Wendy Suzuki’s conclusions so far:
- Exercise is the single most beneficial thing that you can do for your brain today: It instantly increases your mood, focuses your attention, and speeds up your reactions
- Regular exercise offers long-term neurological benefits: including generating new memory brain cells, increasing positive chemical release, and protecting critical brain functions
The closing statement of her talk was the realisation that regular exercise will significantly reduce the risk of healthy people developing many of today’s incurable diseases.