My husband Ady and I love exercise, particularly if it involves riding mountain bikes! In recent years we've become a lot fitter, and you know the fitter you are the more trails you can get in before you're exhausted and have to call it a day. Even slogging up the steep hills near Minehead at the weekend was enjoyable!
For me this is what getting fit is all about. Friends who have just come back from a skiing holiday in Courchevel told me he's found his 'why' he wants to get fit. He described how he's a great skier but he's currently not fit enough to stay out on the slopes as long as he'd love to each day. He plans to get super fit and lean so that he can get the most out of the next trip.
This is exactly how we think when we go away on a biking holiday, or even a day out on bikes. Working out why you want to get fit gives you that drive and motivation so that you can get out there and enjoy life even more. There's nothing like a holiday or an event to make you get training.
I guess the alternative is sitting around feeling sluggish, slow, stiff and achy and getting bored and down... doesn't sound like fun.
Exercise improves brain function
This is the added bonus of playing sport and getting fit. The brain is described as being 'plastic', it is an adaptable organ that can be moulded by input in much the same way a muscle can be by lifting weights. The classic saying is 'Use it or lose it' is very true. Studies have shown that a particular region of the brain that actually grows with exercise is the hippocampus thanks to a chemical called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The hippocampus is the area of the brain that is essential for memory, spacial memory and navigation and has a role in conflict avoidance decision making.
BDNF has received a lot of attention in the literature with regards to exercise and brain function and it's neuroprotective (protection from degeneration of brain cells- associated with cognitive decline and dementia) effects. The beneficial knock on effects of BDNF are massive for longevity and quality of life...
Benefits of BDNF in a nutshell...
How to Study for exams and improve your memory
A Californian study in 2004 involved a massive review of more than 850 studies about the physical effects of exercise on school aged children. The review showed a positive influence on memory, concentration and classroom behaviour. ECGs done on fit v's unfit children showed more brain activity in the fit kids.
In his book, SPARK, John J Ratey MD describes 'Zero Hour PE' the latest in a long line of educational experiments conducted by a group of maverick PE teachers who have turned the nineteen thousand students in Naperville District into the fittest in the nation - and also some of the smartest. They've done this by shifting the focus of physical education from sports to fitness, teaching them lifestyle by being able to maintain and monitor their own health and fitness. They get the students to run wearing heart rate monitors before classes, the outcome is their exam results have been outstanding.
"This reflects the research that physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another. Aerobic activity has a dramatic effect on brain adaptation and regulating systems that might be out of balance and optimising those that are not - it's an indispensable tool for anyone who wants to reach his or her full potential."
If you're interested in improving your children's and your own brain for life, your memory, learning capacity and exam results get outdoors and go walking in our beautiful countryside and find a sport that you love so much you forget you're exercising!
Have fun! I'm off out for a run!