“The moment my legs begin to move my thoughts begin to flow.” Henry David Thoreau
Some Science Behind Fitness and Brain Function
Fitness, as it relates to peak brain performance, has been recognized for at least a few thousand years. Greeks during the classical age saw physical and mental fitness as complementary pursuits. Students at all educational levels were required to train both their minds and bodies rigorously. In fact, Aristotle wrote what may have been some of the world’s first athletic training manuals.
The Greeks were fairly brilliant when it came to the study of science, though in Aristotle’s heyday, the benefits of physical training as it related to learning were based mostly on observation, as opposed to chemistry. Neurotransmitters weren’t discovered until the early 1900s. Over the past hundred years, studies of the brain’s chemistry have revealed many answers – along with many more questions.
Our disclosure – we’re not chemists. But as fitness fans, we are interested in this intriguing subject, so we’ll share our laymen’s understanding of it with you. Even in laymen’s terms, it’s pretty complex stuff – enough to fill several emails (and we just may do that). Of all the reading we’ve done, though, a few really surprising and interesting things jumped out at us. We’re gonna focus this email on exercise as it affects one right, and one left, brain function.
BDNF – The Most Interesting Chemical We’ve Learned About Recently
Lots of good chemistry happens during exercise. We’re not gonna talk about all of it, or even most of it. In fact, we’re only gonna talk about BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) because this brain protein is pretty fascinating stuff.
Our brains interpret exercise as a type of stress – specifically, the fight or flight type. Actually, this ‘animal instinct’ in our brains is what triggers most of our ‘feel good’ chemicals. They’re our brain’s effort to relax and focus us in the face of something like a carnivorous dinosaur the size of a small house. So, BDNF gets released to protect our ability to act in perceived moments of, “What the ...?!?!”.
While it’s doing this, it’s also protecting our neurons – and even growing new ones – in three key areas of the brain: hippocampus, cortex, and basal forebrain. BDNF is also known to energize and reboot our neurons, helping brains to clear out distractions and become more focused. It is being studied as a key chemical in memory, language, and learning. BDNF increases by about threefold during exercise.
Transient Hypofrontality – You Are Not Imagining It
Transient Hypofrontality isn’t the sexiest turn of phrase – and actually – it involves some super-technical understandings of the brain. We’re gonna have to work out a lot more before we can fully comprehend it all. But the simplest description of this complicated function seems to be as follows: Transient Hypofrontality is a relaxation of the ‘right brain’ (aka the practical side) – allowing greater access to our left brain (aka creative side). Studies have shown that this transient state of mind happens during and immediately after exercise. A lot of creative thinking and problem-solving can be accessed during Transient Hypofrontality. It is highly recommended that any brilliant ideas and insights get recorded before the moment passes. Then, that good old BDNF can take over and turn inspiration into realization.
Stay tuned for more fun facts about the science of brains and brawn. We’ve got a few fascinating studies to share and some more science to back it up. Thanks for reading, and for all that you do to promote better health and well-being.