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Today’s way is Be Active. Notice that I don’t say “do physical exercise”. The reason is that you don’t have to do anything like playing sport or going to a gym or getting all hot and sweaty on a pitch/court/track. Of course, if you want to do those things, that’s brilliant, but if you want to do those things you probably already are. (If not, off you go!) And the point is that for people who hate the idea of those things, being told to do “physical exercise” just doesn’t sound appealing enough. And being told that you must do it because it’s good for you doesn’t motivate strongly enough.
So this brainy health tip is all about “being active”, as opposed to sitting still. Talking of sitting, if you actually have to sit, for whatever reason, that’s fine because you have other bits of your body you can move – you can dance with your arms, lift weights, tighten and move whatever bits of you move.
It’s all about moving your body. And it needs to be something you can enjoy – or at least feel good about afterwards and not actually hate while you’re doing it. Outdoors, that might be a fast walk with friends, or creating a simple routine in the garden or throwing a ball for a dog (your own dog, not a random stranger’s…). Indoors, you might dance to your favourite music in the privacy of your room, run up and down the stairs a few times every hour (not during the night…), vacuum the house. Or you might decide that you’re going to walk instead of getting a lift, do the shopping for your gran – just anything where you’re moving rather than sitting still. And the more you do, the better, within reason – don’t overdo it.
What’s this got to do with the brain?
- You send more oxygen and glucose to your brain
- Your brain produces endorphins, which boost mood
- Your self-esteem improves and you feel good about yourself
- You produce dopamine, which I call the ‘yes chemical”, making you ready for action and learning
- You build physical networks in your brain, giving you new or improved skills in whatever actions you’re taking
- You might allow new neurons to be created – this doesn’t always happen but that’s fine because you’ve got plenty and neurogenesis is not the main reason to be active!
- You process the learning you’ve just done
- Sleep improves
I hate being hot and sweaty but I became a runner a few years ago because I knew I had to look after my heart and brain. I’d read so much of the research and I couldn’t get away from it. I don’t always like it while I’m doing it but I feel so great for the rest of the day that it’s worth it. I also average over 14,000 steps a day. So i am practising what I preach!
Today’s tip: make a chart for seven days, starting YESTERDAY. Write in yesterday’s space all the things you did yesterday which did not involve sitting, including walking, gardening, housework, shopping. Can you do more today and tomorrow? And then can you do the same (or more if you think you need to) the rest of the week? What does that look like? Do you feel proud or do you think you’d be healthier if you did more? Remember not to overdo it – if you do significant exercise (such as a run, gym session or a football game) on one day, you should have a lighter day the next day. But every day, unless you are ill or have a disability or injury, you should avoid sitting still for long periods.
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