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Melissa Campbell


September 19, 2023

Varied Intensity Exercise: Do It For Your Brain

We’ve just survived COVID Round Two in my household, and while this time was very different than last (no ER visits or heart monitors – yay!), there are some similarities, and one of those is brain function and cognition. I’ve recently been thinking about another blog post for LEAF Gym and having worked through the fog for a second time, I felt like the Universe was telling me to explore a blog post on exercise and how important it is for our brains. You know what they say, “If you don’t listen to the Universe, it has to talk louder.” I try to listen, so let’s take a look at how exercise affects your brain.

Exercise helps with brain function.Our brains use glucose to function, (check out the back of any energy drink) and how our bodies metabolize that glucose determines how well our brains function, and how well we function. This 2017 study showed that older adults who engaged in moderate physical activity (say, a brisk walk, or any of Coach Sonya’s warm-ups.) for an average of 45-70 min/day greatly improved the areas of glucose metabolism. Translation: improved learning, retention, mood, and cognition.

Exercise helps keep our minds active.Whether we’re bear crawling 50 feet (wide stance, on your hands and feet, move your hands, don’t step on your hands 😊, keep moving), rowing 500 m (push with your legs, open your hips, pull the handle, release forward, close the hips, bend your legs, repeat), or snatching (O. M. Gosh… this one… you just need to come to class for this), the movements at LEAF Gym are simple, but complex enough to require coordinated movement using multiple body parts at any given time. It will not only fire up your muscles, but your brain function as well.

Exercise helps reduce stress.Everyone has stress. It’s an ever-present part of everyone’s day, but regular exercise can help fight the negative impact. Chronic stress affects our brains and bodies in multiple ways. It literally changes our body’s physical response to stressors, which affect our cognition, our decision making, our impulse control, anxiety, and mood. Regular exercise can help manage stress and lessen the impact on your body.

Exercise helps improve sleep.Lack of sleep, poor sleep, or disturbed sleep can lead to a host of health problems including difficulty concentrating, impaired focus, and increased negative emotional response to stressors. That means it makes you scattered and cranky. We’ve all been around a toddler who needs a nap, right? Same with grown-ups. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep. That’s not 7-9 hours in bed trying to sleep, but actual good-quality sleep with about 25% in REM, and the other 75% in non-REM sleep (Core and Deep).

Exercise helps improve physical health.In addition to the obvious muscle/strength-related benefits of regular exercise, it can also lessen the impact of many chronic health problems that affect our bodies and our brains. High blood pressure, diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and depression are all very common in our society, and regular exercise can help lessen their impact, or even delay the onset.

Exercise helps reduce the effects of depression and anxiety.Exercise releases feel-good endorphins and allows us a positive outlet for all that sparky, tension-filled anxiety energy. My counselor once told me that exercise 2-3 times per week had the same mental health benefits as a low-dose anti-depressant. Hard to believe, but I know I feel better mentally when I exercise regularly. Also, exercise can help us to combat feelings of loneliness by providing social interaction and giving us community support.

Exercise boosts confidence.Last on our discussion block, but certainly not least, the boost in confidence regular exercise provides is definitely good for our brains. Society tells us too often that the scale is the true measure of a person’s health and well-being. “You’ll be happier if you are skinnier” “You’ll be prettier if you are skinnier.” I can honestly say there are a lot of depressed, anxious, and not-well skinny people out there. Working out at LEAF gym has reinforced the importance of Non-Scale Victories (NSV), and the confidence that comes with knowing I just did “that thing.” Whether it’s an Intermediate workout with no modifications, lifting that case of paper more easily, or carrying the big bag of dog food from the car to the house without stopping.

Moral of the blog post: Have I lost weight by working out regularly? Sure, but not a ton. Does my brain feel better? Absolutely. I don’t work out every day, but most days I try to either work out at LEAF, walk, or do yoga. I feel better emotionally and mentally being stronger, more physically fit, more mentally balanced, a better mom/role model for my kids, a more attentive wife, a better friend, and a more focused and tolerant employee than being on any of the diets I’ve ever tried.I invite you to come and give it a try. Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Your brain will thank you.

Melissa Campbell is a paralegal by day, a long time member at LEAF Gym, and a storyteller at heart. If she’s not at the office or creating new worlds, she’s probably spending time with her husband of 21 years or her children who still think she’s cool enough to hang out with. Otherwise, you can find her paddle boarding or in her gardens recharging in nature.

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