One of the most intriguing things that we’re beginning to see about the human brain is, the fact that exercise has a definitive impact on how well you think. This is basically incontrovertible at this point.
Now when most people talk about, “Hey, I want to change the brain. I want to have better cognition. I want to think more clearly. I want to have better memory.”
You’ll read about the importance of aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise, and I complete agree, but I’d like to give you another view, another step to think about why movement, just good, basic movement throughout your day may have a tremendous impact on how well you’re able to function at your job, at home, playing sports, whatever it is that you enjoy.
Movement is the key, not only to better health, but also to better clarity of thought.
What I’m going to do to demonstrate this, I’m going to draw you a little picture. The picture that we’re going to draw is of the brain and I’m going to give you some landmarks.
Now what we’ve drawn here is a picture of the brain from the side, so this is the front, this is the back, this is the bottom, and this is the top. All right, so we’ve got basically four different areas. Now I’m going to put in some little pictures here, going to put in some arrows.
I want to describe all of this to you as we go through, because understanding this is incredibly important for establishing the habit of moving in your life and what impact it can have on you.
Let’s, for now, focus on the idea of, “You know what? I want to think better. I want to think more clearly. I want to make sure as I get older I don’t have the typical memory loss and all those other things that so many people worry about.” Those cognitive functions are oftentimes called executive functions.
Most people, most brain scientists, will tell you that the frontal part of the brain, or the frontal lobe, is where a lot of those executive functions live. Now I want you to keep that in mind. Like I said, this is kind of your … We’re going to talk about this as the thinking part of your brain for now.
Now I’m going to draw in a couple of other things. Right behind this, I’m going to put in a little line in blue, and in just behind that, I’m going to go back to red. I’m going to put in another one and I’m going to lay it right beside it.
Now what those two areas are, the blue one is called the motor cortex, and the red one is called the sensory cortex. To keep this really simple, what this means is that this red area, any time someone’s touching you or you feel vibration or something like that, when you’re getting a sensation in your skin or body, that information is going to be manifested in that red area. Conversely, let’s say you feel something on your foot and you think it’s an ant and you want to shake it off, the motor command, when you tell your body, “You know what? Hey, flick your ankle. Flick your foot.”, that’s coming out of this blue area.
We have sensory in red, motor in blue.
Remember this, frontal lobe, this is where all of your executive functions live. Now we’re going to draw a couple of arrows in and we’re going to start to make all of this make sense, all right? I’m going to draw two arrows. I’m going to draw one arrow from the bottom to the top, then I’m going to draw another arrow that goes from the back to the front.
Some people will describe this as the basic feeding pattern, if you will, for the brain. In other words, how do we keep your brain alive? How do you keep it good and functional?
Let me explain this in a little bit more depth, because your brain really needs two things. This is some information from, specifically, what people talk about is functional neurology. The number one thing that they’ll talk about is, that your brain needs fuel to stay alive. That makes sense. It needs sugar, it needs oxygen, to make sure that all the cells are being supplied.
We know that it needs fuel, which means that my diet is important. If I’m having trouble thinking well, it may be because I’m metabolically-hindered somehow. We’ve got to talk about that at some point, but next, and this is the really cool part, is activation.
One of the neatest parts about modern neuroscience is its kind of proving out some of our cliches, that they’re true. This is one, activation, is definitively about use it or lose it. The way that I like to tell people is, that if your brain is dormant for a period of time, that area can become more dormant. In fact, other areas of the brain will start to take it over.
For your cells to stay healthy, they have to be active.
Now, I’ve got one more rule that I want to share with you and then we’ll put it all together into a pretty picture. Here’s the important rule, areas that lie next to one another, influence one another. Because when one area of the brain, let’s say the sensory area, gets active, that may get more active because of electrical signaling or because of increased blood flow from a stimulus, that has a huge impact on all the stuff that lies near it.
Here’s what I want you to think about. Movement, usually the way we think about it is, movement’s going to send signals to the brain from bottom to top, because we’re going to get all this great information coming from our feet and our ankles and our knees and our hips and our back, et cetera. All that’s going to come up and it’s going to stimulate an area of the brain back here, called the cerebellum.
The cerebellum is involved with integrating all these signals coming from the periphery of the body, and also from our eyes and inner ear. Lots of movement activates the back bottom part of the brain tremendously. That’s cool, because guess what? When this gets active, because of the feeding pattern that makes the top of the brain more active. As the back of the brain becomes more active, now we’re also increasing drive toward the front.
As we think about movement remember, first of all, we’re talking about the back bottom of the brain, but we’re also talking about this part of the brain, the sensory and motor areas. When you’re out exercising, you’re out for a run, you’re doing your joint mobility drills from R-Phase, when you’re doing good visual work, whatever it is, the great part is that there’s this kind of echoing effect within your brain.
If we look at this as the basic feeding pattern, when I activate my brain through movement, eventually, because of proximity, I have the capacity to activate the thinking part of my brain.
It’s not just about, “Hey, I’m getting better blood flow. Hey, my blood sugar is running better.” It’s not about fuel only. Movement, particularly excellent, high quality movement stimulates a tremendous neural signal within the brain that feeds forward, if you will, into the frontal lobe, which has a dramatic and positive impact on cognitive function.
How I want to wrap this all up is this, many people whenever they start taking on exercise as a lifestyle, particularly if you’re working with a Z-Health practitioner or you are a Z-Health practitioner, it’s tempting to, you know, “Yeah, I’ll just skip over my movement stuff today, or I’ll just walk. Whatever.”
That’s actually not a good idea, because these guys particularly, and this integration area, are stimulated by novel things, things that you haven’t done a lot of. Whenever you start doing really precise joint mobility work, you’re actually getting a nice, big stimulus into the brain, and guess what?
At the end of the day, might help you think better.