In the first part of this post, we explained the ancestral connection between our brain and our muscles, how certain areas of our brain are activated with exercise and how we generate resilience, which allows us to recover more quickly, preventing and delaying the appearance of any disease.
In this second part, we will explain the effects of exercising: from an increase in motivation, willpower and emotional control, to the improvement of memory, attention, and learning. Moving our body brings out its best version.
But, in addition, exercise helps modulate painful sensations and protects us against depression. Athletes know very well the mix of sensations which is a combination of pain and satisfaction which takes place with high-intensity exercises. The endorphins released at that moment may have the objective inherited from our ancestors to present certain analgesia that allows us to keep the fighting state without fainting.
The anti-inflammatory effect of exercise and the synergy with nutrients like omega 3, turmeric, or phenolic compounds from the plant kingdom can counteract a chronic silent inflammatory state. This chronic inflammation is associated with obesity, sedentary lifestyle and the stress that characterizes our current society, with increasing rates of depression.
Exercise and the adequate levels of vitamin B6 and zinc can help break down tryptophan into serotonin, which is one of the neurotransmitters most associated with our well-being state. And, paradoxically, in malnourished sedentary individuals, the same tryptophan can generate inflammatory metabolites that are harmful to our brain’s health.
The situation of silent systemic inflammation indicates that there is a bad adaptation for a situation that neither our ancestors nor our genes had foreseen: we have an excess of food at our disposition without the need to go looking for it, which logically limits and reduces our cognitive performance, our ability to survive and our adaptive response.
Eating moderately or even moving and then eating, can simulate the conditions of our ancestors and express protective genes that modulate and stop cognitive impairment and the accelerated loss of our neuronal cognitive reserve. This neuronal reserve of the hippocampus (a region in our brain) is related to memory and learning and it can be increased with just one session of physical exercise. In the same way, we know that sleep deprivation or chronic stress and the excess of sugar and fat in our diet limit our neurons both in number and in function.
Hormesis: training adaptation
Adaptation is trainable with moderate doses of stressors that we can control, and we call hormesis. Exercise, caloric restriction or some hormetic components of foods such as resveratrol, turmeric or ginger induce these healthy effects through the expression of survival genes or sirtuins.
We call hormetic all that which, through a dose of controlled stress, makes us stronger and more adapted. Through well-designed hormetic strategies, we can enhance stronger and better-adapted individuals, who will be able to recover fast from different kinds of demands and delay the appearance of diseases. In other words, resilience.
Our brain and our mental well-being can be trained like a muscle that needs an exercise routine, feeding or even supplementation to improve and bring out its best version every day. Even some supplements or strategies can benefit both in a similar way, like in the case, among others, of B vitamins, magnesium, omega 3, turmeric, vitamin D or even creatine.
Can we activate certain regions of our cerebral cortex and train certain brain circuits associated with a state of mental well-being and resilience? Yes, if we choose well what we eat and take supplements that help health and mental well-being if we do exercise combining aerobic work with small doses of strength work and if we sleep 7-8 hours. In addition, the desire or motivation to keep going on is induced.
People who have a goal or purpose set in their lives or have their ikigai (‘reason for being’ in Japanese) live longer and with fewer pathologies. But, what’s more, the fact of having to fulfil their objectives motivates them every day to take care of themselves in order to achieve them.
This long-term purpose or objective of wanting to see ourselves well in the following years of our life is what sets the course. And it will make us be sure about the strategies to follow it: controlled and not excess eating, moving or exercising, restful sleep, stress management, etc. “How do I want to look or be seen in a few years?” This can be a key question which will make us choose one way or another.
We all have a role model we would like to look alike or maybe we envy them a bit for having aged in an optimal physical and mental state. Today they are even given a name: they are the “wellderly” referring to that well-being which is compatible with ageing without pathologies.
What’s different in the wellderly? Do they have different genes? In fact, there are genetically few differences, except for a small advantage in aspects that protect from neurodegenerative diseases and which could be explained as a certain predisposition in the ability to know or to choose a purpose of living a healthy lifestyle that includes moving, weight control, eating healthily, etc. But, above all, it as a routine, a life habit.
Our body brings out its best version with movement. And moving we greatly improve our physical and mental performance, being the latter very important when designing a long-term objective or purpose that sets our future strategy.
“Mental well-being is something trainable”, as Prof Richard Davidson has repeated on multiple occasions. We’ve realized how unknown our brain was until a few years ago. But now, neuroscience has explained to us the great potential we have to improve, which should encourage us to start and put into practice a healthy lifestyle.
The Barça Innovation Hub team