Hello and thank you all for checking out some of Neurovine’s unique digital content! As you may note from my bio, I pretty much describe myself as a soccer nutcase. And yes, I would say this is accurate. I preface my blog post with that information because I think it will be helpful in understanding how I approach the topic at hand. I’ll discuss how exercise and sports have promoted brain health for me and some tips that may potentially help you as well.
Let’s get started!
How sport and exercise have shaped my brain health
My personal exploration of exercise and brain health begins by trying to understand how the sum of my experiences in an athletic environment has shaped my brain health today. From the time I can remember I’ve always played sports, whether it was hockey in the winter or soccer in the summer. In fact, up until the age of 12 I actually played both sports before deciding to focus on soccer “full-time”. And this variety in activity from a young age is something today, in retrospect, I consider to be very valuable. Playing sports, and by extension exercising, was always fun because it never felt like a chore. I never did anything long enough to get tired of it and my parents never forced my participation in any one specific sport, as long as I was active. In this way, sports were something I always genuinely enjoyed and this is the first key point I would like to make. The benefits of sports and exercise with regard to brain health begin with actually enjoying them and looking forward to them. They offer us a temporary escape from reality, but only if that escape is appreciated.
As I grew older and began to play soccer at a more competitive level, different goals for my playing started to arise. I wanted to play on the best team, compete against the best athletes, and win against that competition. My competitive nature made it such that I enjoyed playing soccer for its competition and for the challenges the sport continued to present. In my opinion, embracing these competitive instincts was also a key point in the relationship between my brain health and sport and exercise. Because competition, and more importantly winning, meant discipline and commitment to the sport, resilience, and teamwork in training, respect in competition and so many more invaluable lessons, playing soccer began to shape who I was as a person and my outlook on life. I believe it gave me the psychological tools to cope with any challenge and succeed in any endeavor. Now, this is not to say that you must have played a team sport during your formative years in order to enjoy some of these benefits. Simple exercise at any point in your life can have many of these same effects, provided it's your goal to enjoy and improve in that exercise. Whether you’re training for a five-kilometer run or attending a yoga class for the first time, challenge yourself to get better with every repetition. You may very well find that this mindset carries forward with you in everything you do.
What does the science say?
From a purely physiological point of view, exercise has been shown to have a myriad of positive effects on the brain. Many research studies have examined this relationship to uncover some remarkable results. For example, a research group led by Dishman and colleagues at the University of Georgia found that exercise has a direct impact on cognition. In fact, exercise not only improves cognition but was also found to be associated with a lower risk for depression, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other types of neurodegenerative diseases as well. Another group led by DiLorenzo found that exercise-induced a positive psychological improvement over an initial 12-week fitness program, and that this improvement remained significant compared to participants’ baselines even at a one-year follow-up. In this case, anxiety, depression, vigor, and self-concept were all psychological variables shown to improve in a positive manner. Furthermore, a research study conducted by Hassmén and colleagues in Finland found that those who exercised at least twice a week reported higher levels of coherence and a stronger feeling of social integration than their less frequently exercising counterparts. All of this is to say that the body of supporting evidence for the relationship between exercise and brain health is clear and the findings presented above are just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re interested in continuing to explore the scientific research that has been done on this subject, I invite you to visit our Additional Resources page for more great content!
Incorporating exercise into your daily routine
Now with this information in mind, it’s equally important to strategize ways sport and exercise can be incorporated into one’s daily routine. And while this process will almost certainly vary amongst each individual, there are a few general steps anybody beginning to exercise can take.
First, what’s an activity that you enjoy and are passionate about? I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again as no single fact will be more decisive in your exercising success. For some, this will be a matter of trial and error while for others the answer might be already clear. Regardless, having an answer to this question is what remains important.
Next, find an alternative to your answer to the question above, or better yet find multiple alternatives! As they say, “variety is the spice of life” and when it comes to exercise, no truer words can be spoken. For most, it’s not a matter of if you will get bored but when. Therefore, having a fun substitute is what will keep you engaged and active on a consistent basis. Additionally, prioritizing your daily exercise routine will also prove to be critical. The biggest mistake most people make is trying to squeeze in a workout during their daily schedules. Naturally, this often leads to other events being prioritized and results in the workout never happening. Instead, try scheduling your workout as you would any other important task. This may be easier said than done but valuing your exercise time to this degree is what will keep you active.
Finally, and most importantly, find a workout buddy! Having a friend to exercise with is an excellent way to keep you motivated and accountable for your workouts. Often there are groups you can join such as the Running Room or your local Sports & Social Club which now offer great, COVID-adapted online workout groups as well. Whomever it may be, exercising alongside a partner or a team will only make the exercise more enjoyable, so long as it’s done safely and according to your local health guidelines!
FIVE EXERCISE TIPS TO PROMOTE A HEALTHY BRAIN
As you take these tips and run (both literally and figuratively), ensure you also keep in mind a handful of important recommendations that will help you thrive both physically and mentally as you exercise.
- Set goals for yourself. Goal setting is an essential component to exercise because it clarifies and highlights your purpose to engage in the exercise altogether. Like anything else, exercising without a purpose will not lead you far and might very well result in boredom or even injury. If you don’t find yourself passionate enough to set goals for your exercise, don’t be scared to change your exercise. Additionally, physically write down your goals and keep track of your progress. You’ll find this will further crystallize your objectives and ambitions.
- Don’t push yourself too hard too fast. For anyone taking up regular exercise for the first time in a while, pacing yourself as you start to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine is critically important. Your body needs time to adjust to the physical demands frequent exercise entails. Overexertion, especially early on, often leads to injury and from there you’re fighting an uphill battle. Slowly increase your workload periodically so your progress follows suit.
- Establish a routine. Exercising regularly doesn’t mean simply going to the gym or out for a run. If you’re to incorporate exercise as a daily activity, establishing a consistent routine will be essential to your success. A few components to this should involve nutrition so you’re eating correctly before and after exercising, warming up before beginning your workout and stretching afterward, and taking the time to write out your workout and then analyze it when you finish. Anything from proper clothing and equipment to the location of where you’re going to be exercising should be given some thought.
- Listen to your body. After establishing a regular exercise routine make sure you listen to your body as it pertains to the frequency with which you exercise. If you’re low on energy or simply don’t feel up to exercising on a given day, don’t hesitate to take a day off. Sometimes you just need a break. However, in doing so, pledge to yourself that you’ll get back to your routine as soon as possible. Missing two workouts in a row can quickly turn into a bad habit and eventual discontinuation of regular exercise.
- Reward yourself. Every workout should be followed by some sort of reward. Whether it’s your favorite snack or kicking your feet up for a couple of hours of TV. Don’t be shy to compensate yourself for your efforts! If anything, it will give you another thing to look forward to.
HELPFUL RESOURCES TO KEEP YOU ACTIVE
There are notable resources anyone can use to help themselves get active and stay active. As I’ve mentioned earlier, taking the time to write down your workout and its details is extremely important. Getting in the habit of doing this before you exercise and analyzing your workout after you finish will facilitate a level of organization and structure in your programs. Whether you use a pen and paper or your smart device, recording your workouts is a best practice. Furthermore, I would also recommend familiarizing yourself with a few fitness pages or YouTube channels as these often allow you to connect with like-minded individuals and pick up neat tips and tricks that pertain to your workouts. Finally, invest in proper exercise gear and/or equipment if you don’t already have some. This is not to say that you should be buying an entire weight machine for your home, but getting yourself some new athletic clothing and a pair of good running shoes can go a long way to helping you avoid injury and stay active.
I want to conclude this blog post with a quote I find interesting and inspirational that I’ve come across over the course of my time playing soccer. My hope is that this quote will also help you as you begin or continue your fitness journey: “Where would you be in a year if you dedicated yourself today?” This has always inspired me to continue with my soccer because it put the onus on me to respond to this question. It never failed to prompt the imagination and sometimes that’s all it takes. For that reason, I’d like to ask everyone reading this blog the very same question: Where would you be in a year if you started exercising today?
- How to Love Exercise: Five Fitness Strategies to Exercise Regularly