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A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body

There is no doubt that is you want to keep your brain healthy, you should also pay attention to your body! The Roman dictum mens sana in corpore sano would indicate that we have known for some centuries about the benefits of regular physical exercise for the brain. More recently, Dr. Henriette van Praag, who studied opiate receptor function at Bar Ilan University in Israel, has worked on brain regeneration after injury and diseases at the Laboratory of Genetics at the Salk Institute at La Jolla, California. She examined the hippocampus – the site of the long-term memory – of mice who had access to a running wheel. Compared with mice deprived of exercise, the active mice had twice the number of cells in the region involved in memory.

And the same trends seem likely to be true for humans. Studies performed in the USA showed that children’s reading scores were boosted considerably when they performed a short dance exercise every day for six months. A recent educational study has shown that just five minutes of general jumping around at the start of the day results in improved concentration and more efficient learning of material. A simple explanation for this is that any physical activity raises our heart rate and increases blood flow to areas throughout the body, including the brain.

Different types of exercise can have varying effects on our mental health. A Harvard Study in 1994 demonstrated that men who burn more than 2500 calories a day in aerobic activity were 28% less likely to suffer from depression. This might have something to do with endorphins – the natural opiates produced within the brain after physical activity. We have all experienced the warm, contented feeling that suffuses us after completing a physical chore, like running, working in the garden or walking (it doesn’t matter what our physical preference is).

This may have less to do with our sense of achievement and more to do with the fact that our brains are flooded with endorphins.

In our technological driven world, children play far less outside than years ago. This is leading to children with under developed core muscles who cannot sit still in class, not because they are hyperactive, but because their core muscles are not strong enough to keep them sitting upright in a chair for the duration of a lesson. This all leaves a big question mark related to our kiddies that need to move more than normal. Those children with three or four modalities that switch off during stress should move even more than the average child.

It’s time to switch off the TV, put away the iPad and let children play, physical play, outside – on jungle gyms, exploring nature, learning how to balance, and get the benefits of strong core muscles and healthy brains!

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